Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Diagnosis: compelling

NY Med sets the standard for fascinating, entertaining reality TV

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If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

This familiar bit of folk wisdom isn't something that trauma teams in big-city hospital emergency rooms get to apply very often. But because documentary producer Terence Wrong continues to follow it as he chronicles the efforts of some of those ER doctors and nurses, the ABC series NY Med remains the most compelling and worthwhile of the summer TV season's "reality TV" arrivals.

NY Med, which returns to prime time on Thursday, June 26 at 9 p.m., is as close to real as the reality genre gets. Uncomplicated, unadorned and most definitely unscripted, it favours a no-frills approach in which production crews and camera operators are there to observe and record while trying not to disrupt or influence what happens.

And because Wrong (Hopkins, Boston Med) and company continue to be granted seemingly unfettered access to the hospitals in which they're filming, the result is a look inside the (U.S.) hospital system unlike anything else seen on TV.

The new season of NY Med splits its time between two medical centres -- Manhattan's New York Presbyterian Hospital, which caters to a wide range of patients and cases, and Newark's University Hospital, which (at least for the purposes of this series) more often focuses on the chaotic consequences of inner-city violence.

As has been the case in previous seasons of Wrong's series, this new eight-episode set follows multiple storylines (cases) through each instalment and focuses on the efforts of several doctors and nurses who become the "stars" of the show.

Highest profile among them is Dr. Mehmet Oz -- he of the popular daytime show and recent congressional-hearing controversy -- whose surgical practice is centred at New York Presbyterian.

In the season opener of NY Med, he invites the camera to follow him on a quick tour through the ER, something he likes to do occasionally in order to stay connected to the rhythms of the hospital.

Once there, Oz and the camera crew encounter a man experiencing chest pains; as Dr. Oz speaks to him, his symptoms intensify greatly and we suddenly see a patient in exruciating discomfort and in the beginnings of a life-threatening emergency. It's during this sequence -- and many others like it -- that NY Med separates itself from the rest of the unscripted-TV pack, by simply allowing events to run their course and letting viewers experience the stress, tension and life-or-death stakes of an average day in a trauma centre.

The new season's storylines also include a young husband facing surgery to remove a tumour from his upper spine. He has known about the growth for almost a year, but has been afraid to tell his wife about it and only now, with the tumour's size making its removal quite urgent, does he share the truth with his spouse.

In another sequence, ER staff deal with the injuries suffered by a man who has fallen from a third-storey window. It turns out that he locked himself out of his apartment and tried to gain re-entry by leaping from a balcony to a window; he missed, and is lucky to be alive.

Later, the hospital's cardiac team performs transplant surgery on a 19-year-old man who recently graduated from U.S. Marine Corps boot camp and then learned -- after suffering a stroke -- that his badly damaged heart would not last much longer.

Once again, Wrong has wisely chosen to mix these extreme-trauma types of cases with others that serve as mood-lighteners in each episode. One segment follows a young woman with severe sunburn suffered while surfing in California; when asked if she had been wearing sunscreen, the young blond says, "I don't believe in it."

Another less-harrowing sequence follows resident urologist Ashley Winter as she prepares an elderly man for surgery to replace his penile implant. When the operation is over and its success is very apparent under the surgical sheeting, Winter observes, "Everyone should experience this joy -- giving birth to an erection."

The balance is perfectly considered, and each episode of NY Med takes viewers on a journey that is fascinating, enlightening, at times frightening, at others quite amusing, often deeply emotional and, without fail, extremely rewarding.

If all reality TV was this good, the unscripted genre wouldn't have such a bad name.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 26, 2014 C7

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