Blightyvision: “Green Wing”

Created by Victoria Pile
Starring Sally BrettonOliver Chris and Olivia Colman

Once I finished my viewing of “Green Wing,” and before I sat down to write, I went and looked up other reviews out of curiosity.  Apparently it is an award-winning show that has garnered huge amounts of praise and acclaim for its clever humor and edginess.  It’s got Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan in it, whose acting I’ve enjoyed separately in “Black Books” and “Dirk Gently” respectively, and even more so together in “Episodes.”  It’s got Sarah Alexander (Susan of “Coupling”), whom I rarely see in anything anymore.  And, overall, it had a lot going for it.

And thus when I ended up disliking it immensely, I almost felt guilty — as though I’d made some huge social blunder by having taste different to about 90% of the Anglophile viewing community.  So even after I was tempted to tap out (about four episodes in) I kept watching and hoping maybe I’d come to my senses.  But I never did warm to it, and ended up giving up before I made it to the post-second-series specials.

It’s a bit “Scrubs”-y in its own way, not by way of style or mood so much as general setting and setup.  Basically, it’s various colorful personalities in a hospital and all the things they do wrong interpersonally.  While there’s something akin to a continuity, mainly by way of who’s most recently snogged Caroline (Greig, the newest doctor), it’s much more a collection of weekly recurring gags that you don’t have to focus too hard on to follow.  The different subsets of the cast are kept pretty separate, which is good for keeping characters straight but not so good for cohesiveness.  Nonetheless, there are plenty of humorous recurring elements — surgeons picking games to play while they work, the rotating crushes on Dr. Macartney (Julian Rhind-Tutt), and the antics of medical student Boyce (Oliver Chris) trying to rattle his mentor (Mark Heap).

Overall, there are lots of fantastic elements to it, some moments of clever writing, and some very good acting.  But said good elements are crushed under poor execution, ridiculous camera work, and quite frankly embarrassing dick jokes.

I’ve written before about appreciating comedy that takes you outside your comfort zone — that puts a tiny bit of discomfort or alienation on you, daring you to laugh when really you’re just not entirely sure what’s going on or whether you should laugh.  “The Mighty Boosh,” “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace,” and even “That Mitchell and Webb Look” have all played with that.  I can see where “Green Wing” is doing the same.  However, there’s something about the sheer amount of time taken up by furniture humping and awkward sex talk that goes beyond playful discomfort into embarrassment.  For a single character or pair of characters, it might have worked.  But it extended into every subset of the plot.  It ended up not being so much the weird conversation that you can’t help but eavesdrop on as it was the weird conversation you need to run away from because you’ve started feeling vicariously embarrassed.

Part of the sheer overstatedness of this could be in a large part because this did not need to be done in hour-long episodes.  Half-hours would have suited it far better, gotten as much across by way of material, and pared down all the material into more manageable lengths.  Unfortunately, the extra time gets filled with the less rounded, more off-putting characters, and I found myself wanting to wrench the camera back around to the people I actually cared about.

Speaking of the camera, I don’t know what the intent was with the arbitrary speeding-up and slowing-down of scenes.  For the opening sequence it was cute, but it became overused as time went on.  I feel like it was meant to parody something or be some sort of statement on how overwrought camera work is nowadays, but after a while it just got irritating, and all it did was make me wonder if Hulu was running slow.

I wanted very much to like this show.  In the end, I made it 3/4 of the way through and had to give up.  It was a chore to watch, and I found myself actually praying for the last episode so I could jump to something else in my queue.  There must be something to it, as it’s gotten awards and I’ve had people asking what the hell is wrong with me for not liking it.  In the end, it felt like there was the average mix of stuff I like and dislike when it comes to any show of this length and format — except that the stuff I did like was weighed down and squished by the stuff I didn’t like, but the writers apparently did.  I can’t in good conscience recommend it, but I can say that I’m in the minority.  For what it’s worth, let that be your guide.

“Green Wing” is available to watch free on Hulu.  I’ve really got nothing funny to follow up with that isn’t flooded with insomnia- and caffeine-riddled snark.