25 August 2003 | Yrmy
ER with slightly more interest in people than performance
Always & Everyone is pretty much a British contribution to the flux of ER-derived medical shows, right down to some of the characters, such as Harewood's Mike Gregson, who during the first two series had time to cover much of the same ground as Eric La Salle's Peter Benton in ER. The rest of the cast includes a collection of well-worn hospital series archetypes, from nice nurses worn down by too much empathy for their patients to a young know-it-all doctor who soon learns all about teamwork and medicine not being just about technical skills.
While there's enough jargon and hand-held camera, the series has a grittier look (cold, grey British kitchen-sink "realism" instead of ER's glaring and stylised hyper-realism) and less interest in the gung-ho medicine celebrating edge-of-the-envelope feats of individual heroes than its transatlantic counterpart. The moralising and sentimentality are also somewhat toned down, even when heavy themes are flaunted.
Still in contrast to the multiple intersecting storylines of more traditional British medical dramas such as Casualty, A & E focuses on the personal and professional exploits of the regular characters and the treatment of individual patients in the insular environment of the emergency room. The outside world is not a community to be serviced but a shadowy skip that keeps dumping in more mangled flesh for the staff to stich together, even when they are hampered by that old stand-by nemesis, bureaucracy, or reeling from miscarriages, broken affairs, backstabbing or loss of colleague (there's usually one dead regular per series to keep the audience from becoming too comfortable with the set-up). Speed and shock are high on the list of priorities here, as with ER, even if the treatment sequences don't become such rampant displays of performance and jungle warfare-like visuals. However, there's little of the experimentalism in format and narration that ER could occasionally distinguish itself with: the one original idea was the inclusion of two security guards who commented on the hospital goings-on from behind their monitors and offered some predictable comic relief, but this upstairs-downstairs angle obviously didn't work, and so the proles got the heave-ho after the first series.
What you get is a professionally-made, briskly-paced medical series that breaks little new ground, but is at best genuinely compelling. What ultimately hold it all together are the solid and dedicated performances from the whole cast, but especially Shaw as the traditional bruised-but-passionate, I'm-a-doctor-and-that's-all-I'm-good-at father figure Kingsford and Cusack as the ever-smiling, compassionate and capable feminine counterpart Fletcher, who seems to be always caught in some emotional crossfire.