REVIEW : A shot of Gobbledegookamine for weary viewers

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The Independent Culture
Cardiac Arrest (BBC1), back for a second series, appears to have lost none of its lavatorial scorn. "Phil," said Claire Maitland in the first episode, briefing a new recruit, "you work in a pool of excrement - your job is to swim for the shallow end." Last week the metaphor was stood on its end - "You find that as you climb the ladder the droppings from above just get a bit warmer," observed one of the National Health Service's walking wounded, after an encounter with the hospital manager (boo, hiss). By a coincidence of scheduling, you can compare this peculiarly British account of a health system going down the toilet with an American equivalent, ER, set in the emergency room of a public hospital.

When everyone's at work, the two dramas are almost identical. The stuff you can understand is mostly inaudible and the stuff you can hear is mostly incomprehensible. It's all urgency - a rattle of initials and trade names to quicken the pulse of armchair patients.

I take it on trust that the things they shout are reasonably authentic, but it wouldn't matter much if they weren't. The point is to make your head spin, not to instruct you in resuscitation techniques, and almost anything would achieve the same effect - "Quick, he's losing interest, the lids are dropping! Nurse, draw me up three mils of Obscurose, with an IV of Jargonoxomyl. Sustain with with Gobbledegookamine at 15-minute intervals. Now!"

Off duty, on the other hand, the two dramas are very different. For one thing, Cardiac Arrest is prepared to make fun of acronyms, a grave breach of the telly doc's Hippocratic Oath. A weary casualty nurse offloads three new patients on to Dr Collin: "PFO, PGT and PDE," he explains. "Pissed, Fell Over... Pissed, Got Thumped... Pissed, Denies Everything." For another, the British version is genuinely disenchanted and resentful, quite prepared for you to take a strong dislike to some of the characters. In ER, as in most American popular series, adversity is just an obstacle to be cleared in style. The hospital is an arena for personal growth, and hurt feelings are nearly always bandaged and given a little kiss before the final credits roll.

There is humour, even humour you might, just, describe as off-white. But for the most part the gags are a warming addition to the cool gravity of medical rescue, a reassurance to viewers that the icy command of the doctors is capable of thawing. The patient who lies beneath a white sheet and chirpily insists that he's dead brings an indulgent smile to the nurse's face. In Cardiac Arrest they would threaten to start the post-mortem unless he immediately surrendered his bed to a more deserving case. The soupiness here is meticulously confined to the budding romance between Mrs Trimble and Mr Docherty, a man who appears to be permanently attended by his own string quartet. In ER the threats come from outside the hospital, whether it's in the form of a nine-year-old wielding a pistol or a Pit Viper on the loose. In Cardiac Arrest you stand at least as good a chance of being killed by the overworked doctors.

"Club Expat" (BBC2), a Modern Times account of easy living in Dubai, organised its material as a sort of social anthropology. The expatriate community was broken down into types - "The Corporate Wife", "The Old Colonial", "The Self Made Man" and so on. This made the film rather bitty and seemed to prevent it getting beneath the surface of this pampered community. There was a nice moment when one interviewee hotly contested the suggestion that this was a life without culture - "That's absolutely not true," she said, "Tom Jones is coming soon. We've had Cliff Richard, Bryan Adams... Michael Jackson almost came... really everything is available." That suggested that there might be nothing beneath the surface to get at, but even so, the film reflected the subject's blandness a little too faithfully.