Ben Mortimer writes for Bleeding Cool:
At some point last year, noticed only by the handful of people who worked there, Film 24 laid off all of its staff, and wound down operations. It has still existed, at least in name, at 157 of the EPG, but it’s not a channel anymore, simply a televisual zombie, groaning out reruns of Bonanza, to no one in particular.
Fortunately, today that’s set to change, as Sony TV launches, on 157, blowing the metaphorical head from Film 24’s rotting corpse. Bleeding Cool were recently invited to the launch event, where we sat through presentations about the channel, a screening of their flagship show Hawthorne, and a Q&A with the star of the show, Jada Pinkett-Smith.
The presentations dealt with the line up for the opening night (7pm – Dawson’s Creek; 8pm – Hawthorne; 9pm – Marie Antoinette), the main shows around which the schedule will be organised (Hustle, Hotel Babylon, Huff, Las Vegas, Dawson’s Creek) and the general ethos for the channel (‘Familiar and favourite shows, alongside new ones’).
They also told us about their Thursday ‘Girls Night In’ strand. At this point it was becoming increasingly clear that I wasn’t really in their target audience; a fact confirmed when they informed us they were aiming for women aged between 25 and 55: exactly the target audience of Hawthorne (or correctly styled, HawthoRNe), the Pinkett-Smith starring, and exec produced medical drama taking pride of place in the channel’s schedule.
The show is sufficiently popular in the US that it’s well into its third season, and no doubt it will find an audience in the UK who take it on face value, and enjoy it as an earnest drama about the difficulties faced by a nurse who just happens to be a single mother. For me, though, the show had an entirely different appeal.
It is, essentially a high-budget, shiny version of Holby City.
Hawthorne is unintentionally a work of comic genius.
By being both entirely po-faced, and also completely rubbish, it is by far the best spoof of the medical drama ever made.
From the outset the show is utterly ridiculous, combining characters who are so monumentally stupid that I’d be concerned with their ability to mop a hospital floor, let alone work as critical care staff, with dialogue that appears to have been written by someone who has never heard human beings talk.
Within a few minutes of the opening sequence two nurses are talking, when they are interrupted by an off-screen plea, ‘Help me! Somebody! Please!’. Their immediate response is not, to go running towards the cry, but instead to remark ‘That doesn’t sound right’. It may well be the writer’s attempt to inject the show with pith and wit, but it simply sounds ridiculous. And this is a high point.*
The show is also clumsily written. At the Q&A following the show, Pinkett-Smith spoke about her mother, a former nurse, and her involvement with the show:
My mother wrote me a five-page email on all the things that she felt needed to be adjusted in the first year! So I actually got new medical advisers for the second year, so I knew we had at least done our job as far as all the details of being a nurse.
In doing so, she has allowed the program to become packed with so much medical jargon that it seems like a response to the Mitchell and Webb “medical series without the medicine” sketch. It has exactly the same comedic appeal.
While the show has taken the medical jargon to the extreme, it has almost no regard for the staff who work in the hospital. As I mentioned before, they are, almost without exception, portrayed as barely competent fools, with no medical knowledge, and little sense. This is typified in a scene set in the courtyard of the hospital, where a handyman begins choking. In spite of being surrounded by nursing staff, all of whom would, logically, be used to dealing with an incident such as this on an almost daily basis, it takes several minutes for him to find help. When he does, the nurse who comes to his rescue is not treated as a man simply doing his job, but a conquering hero.
They do, however, sport nicely colour coded outfits, presumably because the program makers have the same contempt for their audience as they do for their subject matter, hence, much in the vein of The Power Rangers we have Blue Nurse, Green Nurse, Peach Nurse, Red Nurse, and my personal favourite, Purple Nurse, who is far younger and prettier than the rest of the cast, and therefore the victim of every conceivable injustice the writers could throw at her.
What the show does regard highly is itself. Those involved clearly believe Hawthorne to be a stinging social commentary, hence in addition to Hawthorne herself (Pinkett-Smith’s character) being a single mother, there is the constant, overwhelming threat of cutbacks to the hospital. In the episode we were shown, Hawthorne spent almost all of her time arguing with her superiors over how many people she was going to be forced to lay off. Unfortunately, once more, the show fails to pull this off.
Rather than the threat of job losses being a stinging indictment of healthcare provision in the US, it’s simply treated as another tool to be used by the pantomime villains who form the upper echelons of the hospital’s management structure. Still, there’s plenty of time for the writers to try to get this right, as Pinkett-Smith has promised us more of the same as the show goes on:
We’re taking it a little further in the third season because [healthcare provision] is one of the primary issues in the States right now. I felt like it didn’t make sense to have a medical programme and not deal with those issues and have audience members who are watching it relating to what is happening with people in the medical industry every day. It’s really sad and this year we’re diving into it a bit more heavily.
These things alone would conspire to make Hawthorne, or at least the episode we saw, an utterly hilarious show, but the icing on the cake comes from a twist about 45 minutes in. Remember at the beginning the nurses responded to a call of “Help me! Somebody! Please”? As it turns out, the person begging for help was a woman whose mother had collapsed due to diabetes as they were getting out of her car. So far, so mundane. The twist comes, however, when the woman suddenly screams “Oh my God! I left my baby in the car!”
Because you would, wouldn’t you.
What’s brilliant about this twist is that it comes completely out of nowhere. At no point during the course of the show do we get even the slightest hint of what’s to come, and when it happened it was almost impossible to stifle a laugh. On a more serious note though, this is a real error in the structure of the show, and also ignores one of the most basic rules of writing fiction, that if we’re going to see something this important in the final act, it needs to come out of what has happened earlier on.
Curiously it seems like this issue has arisen due to Will Smith’s involvement with the show, as Pinkett explained:
[Will] is a master structuralist as far as story is concerned – there’s no-one better in the business than him in my opinion. He understands the pulse of what people want to see, how to create the maximum emotional impact.
Sort of explains why Men In Black 3 is having so many script issues, doesn’t it?
Hawthorne then, is a truly dreadful TV show. A monument to incompetence, arrogance and hubris, but a hugely enjoyable one. It’s unlikely the pleasure of watching something so bad will extend past a handful of episodes, but it’s well worth checking out when the series begins at 8pm tonight.
*Other choice examples of the show’s dialogue include: “The doctor has to know everything so she can make the right diagnosis”; “Nurses don’t need credit for saving lives, it’s just what we do”, and the classic, “Stop the fake drama, please”.
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