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Pilot Review: COMBAT HOSPITAL

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Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: Jun 21, 2011 (Global, ABC)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.963 million viewers (Global), 5.26 million viewers, 1.2/3 with A18-49 (ABC)

ABC is still saving money over the summer months. Besides ROOKIE BLUE, basically last summer’s ratings success, there comes another co-produced television drama, which kinda sounds like another version of GREY’S ANATOMY, sounds like a medical drama with a twist, and sounds like it won’t be anything interesting at all. At the end, I couldn’t get around to compare COMBAT HOSPITAL with the already cancelled OFF THE MAP, and think that former series is a lot better for a few obvious reasons. COMBAT HOSPITAL focuses on the operations, only teases the character relationships and constellations (without sending them all into a potential love romance in the pilot, which is a treat in today’s television), and works well because of only one reason: It puts the focus on only one character, surrounded by an interesting looking supporting cast.

Of course it’s a shame that COMBAT HOSPITAL didn’t do well in ratings, but it’s understandable. First, I absolutely cannot understand why the title was changed. “The Hot Zone” was fitting much better, because you don’t get what the show is about with the title, except that it must be some sort of an adrenaline kind of show. Who knows what people are thinking, when they read there’s a show called “Combat Hospital” on air, especially after ABC tried an actual hospital documentation with BOSTON MED last summer (it actually premiered tomorrow one year ago). And figuring that ABC probably didn’t do any promotional work for the show (I couldn’t even find a proper poster for it), there’s no wonder why the premiere failed with the audience. Furthermore, I now believe that every show, which manages to entertain me on a surprising level (LOVE BITES, HAPPY ENDINGS, TERRIERS), seems to fail with the audience.

Because the pilot was actually good. Like I already mentioned, it doesn’t feel like a GREY’S ANATOMY version in a war zone, and it definitely didn’t focus on any kind of future romance/relationships in the pilot. Even though the series started with Rebecca (Michelle Borth) taking a pregnancy test, while her plane is about to land; even though most of the episode is about Rebecca’s secrecy about her pregnancy and actually finding out if she’s pregnant; even though the writers have already hinted on a little tête-à-tête between Rebecca and civilian doctor Simon (Luke Mably). But all of that didn’t annoy me at all, because the pilot focused to make one thing clear: working at a military hospital in the middle of a non-ending war is pressuring, keeping you up 24/7, and basically dangerous on all levels. In addition, I liked how the new arrivals – Rebecca, as well as Bobby (Terry Chen), who hasn’t gotten any characteristic edges in the pilot – were treated during their first two days in the hospital. I was glad to see that Xavier (Elias Koteas) was able to both lecturing about and praising for her work in the same scene. Finally there is an ensemble drama on the TV market, which doesn’t treat its newly arrived characters like shit and instead treats them like normal human beings. Even more: Xavier turned out to be a pretty interesting, calm character, even though he seems to be the “bossy” boss in the hospital. I really liked that he showed his power in front of everybody, but was still able to act as a friend and somebody whom the colleagues can talk to. Like the ending, when Rebecca mentioned she didn’t expect all of this, Xavier instinctively felt how she was feeling, and went on a same level with her. As long as the writers will continue this character work, I won’t have any worries that COMBAT HOSPITAL becomes too much of a Canadian GREY’S ANATOMY.

Which brings me to the characters: Despite some missing edges (I just hope Bobby gets the full treatment in the next couple of episodes – after all he had the second most amount of screentime here), the characters are solid, and I could get them, understand their panic. It is a good idea to make Rebecca the major character and tell the stories from her point of view (I hope this will be continued), which makes COMBAT HOSPITAL not overstuffed with characters the series basically doesn’t need, and it was a good idea that only a few little storylines were fired up in the pilot (Rebecca and Simon, Rebecca and Ada [Deborah Kara Unger]). The episode had more time to focus on the medical cases and deliver some interesting storylines, beginning with the badly wounded Taliban (thank God, the clichés were standing outside with this one), as well as some emotional moments with the death of one of the soldiers. I really hope COMBAT HOSPITAL proves to be the ER in a military zone, even though it would be good at some point to slow down the pace a little, to make room for the characters.

There were still some problems though: I didn’t like the CG shots from Kandahar, especially when they looked like as if they were made from the effects team from SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND; and I didn’t think the humor was fitting into the show. The scene where Xavier killed the snake seemed to be funny at first, but I really can’t buy that a colonel, operating on somebody, is pulling his gun in the OR, just to shoot a damn snake.

All in all, the pilot was promising and definitely not bad, and I’m excited to see more episodes. Now there’s just the question if the writers want to tell interesting and unique stories with their TV show, or just copying an already up-and-running success. I’m already forgetting all about OFF THE MAP, which didn’t manage to do it, but this one has the possibility to become a fine series – something I never say about Canadian TV shows. 7.5/10

The major shows you that her job is bloody

Soldiers saluting the half-mast

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Written by Christian Wischofsky

June 23, 2011 at 10:00 AM

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