There's a lot to be said for just staying the hell out of the way.
It's this filmmaking strategy, and the carefully considered decision to let the compelling human stories tell themselves, that makes the ABC documentary series NY Med an exercise in brilliant simplicity.
NY Med, which premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on ABC, is the latest deep-inside look at the world of hospitals and doctors by documentary producer Terence Wrong (Hopkins, Boston Med). And in this riveting eight-part summertime series, as in his previous work, Wrong make the right choice, which is actually a fairly rare occurrence in the realm of U.S. network "documentary" series that tend to favour over-production, contrived controversy, unnecessary commercial-break cliffhangers and overwrought, voice-of-doom narration.
NY Med opts to let the real, dramatic stories of real, everyday people speak for themselves, and the result is a stark, unflinching series that will resonate deeply for anyone who has experienced a medical crisis first-hand or helped a loved one navigate a journey through the health-care system.
The key to Wrong's effectiveness is access -- in producing NY Med, he and his team spent a full year following the doctors, nurses and support staff who work in several New York City hospitals. With the unprecedented access they were afforded, they would necessarily have recorded hundreds upon hundreds of individual stories and then faced the daunting task of editing thousands of hours of footage down into eight one-hour episodes.
Each of the instalments previewed is an emotional roller-coaster, mixing heavy real-life drama with moments of outright silliness, and highlighting mostly positive outcomes while recognizing the raw truth that many medical problems simply cannot be fixed.
Tuesday's opener features a young mother of two who has learned she has a malignant tumour deep inside her brain, and that surgeons' attempt to remove it involves a tricky bit of neurosurgery in which she will be wide awake so she can communicate with doctors to ensure they don't damage crucial areas of her brain.
There's also a man awaiting open-heart surgery; his physician, as it turns out, is Dr. Mehmet Oz, the world-famous TV personality who, in this context, is shown as a skilled cardiac surgeon doing the work he was clearly born to do.
(Later in the series, Oz finds himself on the other side of the doctor/patient equation, having decided to follow his own oft-repeated advice and submitting to the colonoscopy he has long been putting off. The results are quite revealing.)
Among all the dire, tense drama of NY Med's first hour, there's also a case involving a man whose use of a popular erectile-dysfunction drug has created a very painful lasting-more-than-four-hours stimulation that requires medical intervention, and a man treated for food poisoning who becomes smitten with one of the nurses and returns, weeks later, with a flower-enhanced date request.
Aside from a brief, introductory voice-over and a few well-chosen musical enhancements, NY Med is their stories, presented by a very smart filmmaker who had the good sense to stand back and let them do the telling.
Produced by Terence Wrong; featuring Dr. Mehmet Oz
Tuesday at 9 p.m.
4 1/2 stars out of 5