Thursday, June 21, 2012

Green Wing: Screwball Hospital Antics

Green Wing premiered on Channel 4 in 2004 and lasted for only 2 series (17 episodes and a special). But like all British series with a short run, it is pure comedy gold. Set in the fictional East Hampton Hospital Trust, it will introduce you to some of the most bizarre characters you have ever seen on TV, while still giving you funny, engaging storylines and truly sympathetic characters to root for.

I've been meaning to revisit this show for a while because it stars Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Greig who I now see all the time on billboards to promote the upcoming second season of Episodes. It's bizarre to watch Green Wing and see how young they look, but they are also far more dysfunctional in a way that you can't get on most American comedies. Mangan plays the part of obnoxious, chauvinistic, Swiss anesthetist Dr. Guy Secretan, while Greig is Dr. Caroline Todd, a surgeon who has just started at the hospital and is awkward, bumbling, and just desperate to make a good impression. Julian Rhind-Tutt (most recently seen on the BBC series The Hour) plays the sarcastic and delightful Dr. "Mac" Macartney, and is the third party in a series-long love triangle as Caroline tries to figure out which of these two doctors she is meant to be with.

Those three characters are the "normal" ones. The other doctors and administrators who make up this hospital are just certifiably insane, none more so than staff liaison officer Sue White (played with manic glee by Michelle Gomez) whose antics can range from sitting in her office in a squirrel suit, to parading a camel around the hospital. Yes, a real-life camel. The entire series is like a Beckett exercise in absurdist humor, and has the feel of a sketch comedy show. However, the growing emphasis on the Caroline-Guy-Mac storyline and the various tangential stories involving other characters keep the show moving at a nice pace and give you something to be thoroughly invested in.

Green Wing is a show that you can polish off over a weekend and then mourn that there are so few episodes. And yet, you can revisit it time and time again and find new jokes and situations that make you laugh out loud or shake your head in bewilderment. The show allowed for a lot of improvisation and one of the joys of a repeat viewing is trying to pick out where the actors are breaking (or "corpsing" as our British brethren would say) and desperately fighting to not laugh and ruin the take. That sense of fun and merriment is palpable in every episode and is the essence of every great comedy. If the people making the show are having a good time and laughing out loud, you can be certain the audience will follow suit.

The show is available on Hulu if you're in the US, and Channel 4 On Demand for UK viewers. If you live elsewhere, get creative, but watch it. You simply cannot be disappointed. 

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