Last Night's Television: ER, More4
Tourette's – I Swear I Can't Help It, BBC1
Extreme male beauty, Channel 4
Just what the doctor ordered
Alice Jolly is an author, playwrite and teaches creative writing at Oxford University. She is crowd-funding her own memoir of infertility and surrogacy with the publisher Unbound. 50 per cent of the proceeds of the book will be donated to SANDS (The Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Foundation).
Friday 29 May 2009
Hang on. ER? Didn't that disappear sometime in the early-Noughties, along with Party of Five and Ally McBeal? Apparently not. Or at least not until last night when the final episode aired on More 4, preceded by a sentimental hour's worth of gushy reflection. It was an elegant exit, by any standards: perfectly suited to those who, like me, tuned in for one final blast despite having missed out on much of the series' more recent years. I was at secondary school when I first watched it; it was an exotic import to one of South Africa's much-needed pay-to-view channels. And, I am ashamed to say, it was never Dr Doug Ross, George Clooney's character, who took my fancy, but the enduring John Carter, played by baby-faced Noah Wyle. Less swashbuckling, admittedly, but reliable. Wyle was there last night; the hoped-for Clooney return never came.
As usual, there were a zillion little mini-dramas within the bigger one. Carter opened his long-awaited medical centre with a swishy bash and a collection of ER alumni. Alexis Bledel, of Gilmore Girls fame, arrived as a wide-eyed intern, only to be confronted with a horrific and oh-so-familiar birth scene involving twins and a problem placenta (think season 1, episode 1: Dr Carter's first day at the hospital); Dr Greene's daughter Rachel returned as a wannabe med student; and Kem (Thandie Newton) reappeared as a potential love interest for Carter.
They didn't head back to the Sudan, thank goodness, or any of the series' other "exotic" indulgences. Instead, they stuck to what they do best: projecting the irregular urgency of a down-town hospital on to the screen. The best bit for me came right at the end. Just as things appeared to be winding down – Carter and Gates playing basketball in the parking lot, everyone else gathered in reception – a call comes in: there had been an industrial explosion, with at least eight casualties. Ambulances on the way. Sirens blared. And then... that familiar music. Farewell, ER. You'll be missed.
More medical matters – quite different but just as compelling – over on BBC1 with Tourette's – I Swear I Can't Help It, which revisited John Davidson, the subject of a similar documentary in 1988, as an adult, living alone and working in his local community centre. Alongside him was Greg, a child in the first documentary, who's now a strapping 15. The point, if you like, was to arrange a reunion. John and Greg have seen one another only twice in the intervening years; though, of course, there was so much more to it than that. Principally, an illustration of how far society has come in accepting Tourette's as a valid neurological condition.
It rapidly became clear the extent to which Greg's being born 20 years later than John has improved his quality of life. As a teenager, says John, hardly anyone understood what Tourette's was and, looking at footage, even his mother (who now lives on the other side of the country) appeared impatient with the problem. Greg is quite a different story. His parents couldn't afford to keep him in private education, and it took three years to secure funding for a teaching assistant at his local state school, but now that's sorted, he's doing brilliantly: playing drums in a band, going roller skating, chatting up girls. He tics, frequently, but brushes the incidents off with such charm – he does a nice line in self-deprecating humour – that they hardly appear to impact his social development at all. It's striking contrast, and one that ran throughout the programme. By the time the pair meet, it's Greg who, despite his youth, appears the more worldly character, teaching John how to play the drums and showing him around his neighbourhood. The reunion itself was appropriately moving, a fitting conclusion to what was, in then end, an extremely insightful and incredibly compelling slice of life on the bumpy side of the track.
If only such praise could be heaped on last night's other offering: the fourth and final instalment of ever-more-monstrous Extreme Male Beauty, starring a considerably less flabby Tim in his never-ending quest for a perfect body. This week, it's Tim's face under the spotlight. So they drag out the usual tricks, all getting rather old now: the confrontational vox pop, the locker-room chats and the gruesome surgery (eyelid lifts and hair transplants, if you were wondering). And to what end? As far as the token male sitting next to me is concerned: all I can see are the seeds of self-doubt – the same seeds that have grown into thick, self-loathing forests in women – being sown. EMB is like any of those Channel 4 freak shows: masquerading as concerned while pointing and laughing. Here, it's the average bloke next door who's being ridiculed, the 98 per cent of the population who might have a beer belly or wrinkle. If Tim's an early sign of the things to come, then men are about to get even more self- obsessed than they already are. And, frankly, that's the last thing we need.
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