So the pilot of hectic emergency room drama Code Black made it clear: this show is about hectic emergency room drama. The question is, come week number 2, whether it’s going to be round the clock bedlam – in other words more of the same – and nothing else, or Marcia Gay Harden and Luis Guzmán are going to surprise us.
First off, Angels Memorial Hospital – where Code Black takes place – still suffers from a nonstop influx of patients, but at least the show’s got more time for them than it did in the pilot. Having to cram the necessary exposition in there, amidst an already chaotic situation with a high number of characters and an even higher number of extras, that’s not an easy job, but as far as I was concerned (unlike other critics), the show pulled through. It’s good to see Code Black has left the train station with ‘We Plug Holes’ (I don’t know why such a serious show would opt for such a juvenile title, but okay). It’s found a rhythm and a calm, while getting through another shift of what could be described as medical bootcamp.
In the pilot, it was established that Leanne (Gay Harden) doesn’t think twice about cutting corners, and that’s why her relationship with colleague Neal (Raza Jaffrey) is far from great. There’s serious animosity between them, but somehow it’s nowhere to be seen in the second episode. The only thing that actually promised rivalry (and therefor drama) was left by the side the road.
On Their Toes
So, to come back to the question of whether or not this show will surprise us, I’d say no. It looks like, of all the new series that premiered in the last two weeks, Code Black is the most procedural of all. But let’s not hold that against it. They’ve chosen a concept and the only thing that matters is if they’re doing a good job within the confines of that concept.
The show’s about an emergency room. People come in. Lots of them. The hospital’s understaffed (because, well, they don’t want to tell you, that’s why). Then the doctors do the best they can, base their decisions on hunches, because there’s no time to think it through. They operate, almost guerrilla style; hello entrails. Patients live. Doctors clap. Patients go home. Doctors take a cigarette.
‘We Plug Holes’ basically follows the same pattern as the pilot, so the show really has to look out for not becoming one of those ‘watch one and you’ve seen them all’. It’s already quite a thin concept as it is. The interesting parts should come from personal relationships between the doctors, but they’re all just busy trying to do their best in order not to get fired. Everybody’s walking on their toes, which leaves zip room for friendship or even a brief locker/supply room romance (and/or hole plugging).
Okay. No relationships. What about the mind-blowing medical puzzles that have to get solved? Let’s put it this way: they either go too fast and over your head, or they’re absent. It’s just quick, quick, quick, scalpel, suction, clamp, syringe, we’re losing him, we’re losing him, defibrillator, nip, tuck, stitch him back up, wham, bam, done. See you next week for a bunch of new rushed procedures.
The Overall Production
Well, no puzzles either, I guess. Is there anything exciting left? Yes. Two things. The overall production for one thing. Camerawork, direction, editing is all very much to write home about. Second: Marcia Gay Harden. She always does something interesting and always delivers. Honourable mention: Emily Nelson, who plays desk nurse Hannah.
So far, Luis Guzmán is totally under-utilised. More than give a speech at the beginning, and briefly steer everybody in the right direction during the shift is all the work he’s given to do. There’s just too much well produced chaos and not enough story.