2 August 2004 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Do not resuscitate.
'University Hospital' is very possibly the worst piece of crap I've ever seen. Usually, I shan't review a TV series unless I've watched at least three episodes. I sat through the pilot of 'University Hospital', and that episode was so crapful - and so utterly calculated in all the factors that made it so bad - that I've no qualms about trashing this series based on that one episode.
The main characters are four young women - all very attractive, of course - who are idealistic student nurses at the generically-named University Hospital. (Or, as we'd say in Australia, 'Uni Hozzy'.) At the start of the episode, senior nurse Mary Jenkins (more about her later) screens for her new students an instructional nursing film from the 1950s. (It's actually new footage created for this TV show, but it perfectly captures the 1950s retro look; it's the only impressive thing here.) The fake 1950s film depicts nurses (all of them caucasian, of course) as angels in white, whose greatest ambition is to marry a handsome doctor. Jenkins then interrupts the movie to tell her students that, if this is what they think modern nursing is like, they can leave right now.
Fair enough, *except* that - after so conspicuously disavowing soap-opera stereotypes about nurses - 'University Hospital' proceeds to cater for precisely those stereotypes. The four young nurses are all mooning over the male staff in the hospital, especially handsome young Doctor Daniels.
I really dislike TV shows and films in which working-class characters have got wardrobes and residences far more expensive than they would be able to afford in real life. 'University Hospital' embraces that cliché too, but at least for once they've got a good explanation. One of the hospital's doctors made a lot of money in real estate (I can believe it) and he bequeathed a posh apartment complex to the hospital for staff housing. So, these four nurses all bunk together in a ginormous bachelorette flat that they'd never be able to afford in the real world. The flat is a two-bedroomer, so that's two undressed nursey-wurseys per bedroom. Sapphic moments ahead?
In a very contrived manner, the scriptwriters have ensured that two of the nurses hate each other. (Wow! Lots of story ideas!) Because of the plot device in the previous paragraph, these two ladies have to co-habit anyway. Catfights ahead? I could hear the subplots trundling into place with all the subtlety of juggernauts.
Every plot twist rushes onstage wearing cowbells and neon lights, announcing its arrival from a mile off. One of the trainee nurses is staffing a clerical station when an old man totters up to her desk and asks for the room number where his wife is a patient. He coughs, he trembles, he clutches his chest. "This coffin-dodger is going to have cardio arrest right in front of her,' I predicted, 'and she'll learn her First Big Lesson about nursing: The Nurse Is Always On Call.' Sure enough: Grandpa takes one step away from the nurse's duty station and he promptly pops his clogs and keels over, bang on schedule. The nurse - protesting that she hasn't got through the popped-clogs chapter in her nursing manual yet - reluctantly helps handsome Doctor Daniels cardiovasculate this geezer so he can have further heart attacks in later episodes. It's this TV show that needs the crash-cart.
Nurse Jenkins has an annoying and very contrived habit: every time she makes a pronouncement to her students, she always calls it 'Rule Number One'. Every single rule is Rule Number One. This is supposed to be one of those quirky little crotchets that bad scriptwriters use to make fictional characters seem 'real', but it's an incredibly bad choice. In a highly structured workplace such as a hospital, rules exist in a hierarchy. When two rules are in conflict, the staff must know *instantly* which rule takes precedence. If every rule is Rule Number One, this is impossible.
I wanted to like 'University Hospital' because I'm an admirer of Tonya Pinkins, the actress who played the badly-written Nurse Jenkins. In her own life, Ms Pinkins has overcome personal problems far more dramatic than anything in this bedpan bonanza. Forget it. University Hospital requires the services of Dr Jack Kevorkian and Dr Harold Shipman. Do not resuscitate this flatlined patient.