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Stage and Screen: Code Black; the new ER


Lately I have been struggling to find TV series from the US or the UK worth watching; any recommendations, dear readers, would be greatly appreciated. I just cannot see myself watching Orange is the New Black. Fortunately or not, I have even had to go back to watching House, with the great Hugh Laurie. Which, as you’ll see, is a happy coincidence.

Despite these flickering frustrations, I have stumbled across a great British comedy called “You, me and the Apocalypse” (more on that in a later column), and a drama series that harks back to a smaller screen passion from the bygone pre-Blue Ray and streaming days.

In those days, namely the mid 90s, TV addicts may remember the budding potential of Alex Kingston, George Clooney and Julianne Margulies in the enthralling, punchy drama ER. The early seasons were ground breaking and spawned many an imitation, one being the watered-down Always & Everyone, the British equivalent also set in an accident and emergency (or emergency room). The name of which even suggests some kind of formulaic soap opera.

Despite the quality of ER, they did flog the dead horse a bit too long by dragging it out from 1994 to 2009 for a marathon 15 seasons. I cannot even recall when I clocked off and stopped watching. Although I do recollect Kingston as Dr. Elizabeth Codroy was still in it, even if Clooney as Dr. Doug Ross was long gone at the turn of the millennium.

Work-based dramas tend to have rising stars in their midst, and these days mainstays. The new kid on the block is Code Black, an LA based medical drama set in an accident and emergency, Angels Memorial Hospital as the intro states, experiences Code Black three hundred times a year (dramatic even if you question the stats), when the  average ER is in it five times a year. Note to reader – A Code Black is a situation where an accident and emergency is overwhelmed by mass emergency intakes.

Although the dialogue in the first series left something to be desired (I am hoping the ratings will bring in better writers for Season 2), it is the interactions and, of course, a few of the actors that intrigue me.

As above, I will pick out my three thespian musketeers that show some potential. I could see their careers lifting off from here on in. Notedly: Marcia Gay Haden, Raza Jaffrey and  Bonnie Sommerville. It is not just their talent that I see elevating them, but also their storylines have great potential.

Marcia Gay Haden plays Dr Leanne Rorish, one of the bedrocks of the medical drama, also nicknamed Papa (you will just have to keep watching to find out why, the full reveal even after the end of the first season not being fully exposed yet). I remember first seeing Haden playing the adorable love interest, muse and partial downfall of Gabriel Byrne in one of my all time favourite gangster films, Millers Crossing. It is nice to see her back in a completely different role. Leanne Rorish is the go-to-gal of the LA accident and emergency, but clearly dealing with trauma and baggage of her own that she masks well in her daily work. An old hand, she helps the newbies learn the ropes. A theme that threads through all good corporate and especially altruistic dramas. Haden plays her with a stoic, almost centred outward (to department and the patients) calm, but as viewers we can see there is traumatic emotion bubbling under there somewhere. How she deals with this as a character and as an actor, without falling into melodrama is what will keep me invested in this character, alongside how she aids the fresh blood in the department.

“Code Black TV series title” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Although not Mamma (a male nurse; just watch to find out why), the character played by Jaffrey, Dr Neal Hudson, also assists the newbies in their stethoscope trials and tribulations. Jaffrey, who I also recall from Eastern Promises and Spooks, seems to lend more depth and nuance to his character here. He has a clearly enunciated British accent and is one amongst the many immigrant cultures that reflect the wider society of LA. What intrigues me about his character is the obvious gentleman-like upbringing he has had, and the occasional stamp of authority and control he needs to express for his job. However, just like Haden, there is some underlying issue. Like any classic male characters from literature and film, it is a tension with a father figure that may or may not be resolved. This tension does have some light shed on it in the first season and is one story theme that will resonate I think not only with this viewer. I would love to see how Jaffrey develops this cultural nugget of coming from a seemingly stiff-upper lip heritage to a cosmopolitan city, and dealing with the obvious tensions he has with his past.

The linch-pin to this trio is Bonnie Sommerville, playing the character of Christa Sorenson, a complete newbie to me. Her interaction with both of the previously mentioned characters is enthralling. With the former she sees a like-mind and someone who she can empathise with, the latter someone she can learn from, especially the surgery skills he brings to the team and his cool-under pressure demeanour. Somerville plays her character really well, with an air of eagle-like, almost objective observation, and sometimes out-of-depth moments of disorientation and clarity. The eldest of the newbies, she is struggling with balancing commitments, and obvious tensions from the younger medical cadets. But her strength and discipline come from her experience and being an admirable late bloomer to a career change.

Code Black certainly has enough about it to become a good series for me to continue with, and it is nice to see very strong female characters on mainstream TV in an ensemble cast of mainstays and aspiring-to-be ones. Which ones I place where, may be a nice little comparison to make with your own celluloid acumen. It may even just about rival House for me, although my soft spot for Hugh Laurie’s talent is somewhat large. So bring on a season or more of drama and good acting in this new American TV show.

Coming from a theatre and performance background, and being a celluloid aficionado, it only seemed right that Stewart aka theLingoGuy pursued this through his other passion of writing. He is also very excited by the theatre and documentary scene developing locally, particularly English Theatre Leipzig, DOK and GlobalLE. However, he keeps an eye on the ground breaking stuff in the Fringe, Slam poetry, Battle Rap and the many fusion genre TV series and films. As you can see, you can expect a diverse palette of stage and screen choices, as well as other passions that he will paint from with his words.

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