We all have our favorite and least favorite tropes. From love triangles to slow burns, tropes are often the best ways to showcase great characters and storylines. They can also be frustrating and make you question why it is even a trope at all. In this bi-weekly column, we’ll take a deep dive into some of the most classic television tropes.
Last week, Virgin River (one of my favorite comfort television shows) released its third season. For those of you who are unaware of this Netflix gem, the best way I can describe Virgin River is it’s basically a TV version of a Nicholas Sparks movie.
It follows the life of Mel Monroe, a nurse practitioner who flees the big city to a small town in Northern California. She comes to this small town after accepting a job offer to work at their local clinic. Along the way, she becomes attached to this place and the people in it including a local bar owner and former Marine. It has its fair share of drama and romance, and a pretty solid soundtrack as well.
As I binged the third season, I started to think about what makes this show so great. Sure, the local drama definitely adds a certain flavor to the show, but I think one of the best parts is the medical aspects of it. While not every episode has a medical storyline, the ones that do are never dull.
So as someone who’s always loved medical dramas, I thought I’d take the time to really explore what makes them so great.
One of the main storylines throughout Virgin River’s three seasons involves a woman named Lily and her child, Chloe. It’s a heartbreaking journey filled with highs and lows. Through it all, it was clear that Lily would do anything for her child and, similarly, Mel was also there every step of the way. Since medicine isn’t the primary focus of this series, when it is a topic, the writers really take the time to explore the emotional aspects from both the perspective of the patient and doctor/nurse.
What I particularly enjoy about Virgin River is that it really opens your eyes to how amazing nurses are. I feel like in most medical dramas, there’s never a huge emphasis placed on the nurses. In Grey’s Anatomy, for example, they make it seem like doctors do everything. In reality, nurses play a significant role in the well-being of patients.
Another show that does a great job of demonstrating the importance of nurses is The Resident. Nurse Nic Nevins played by Emily VanCamp plays a huge part in making sure Chastain Memorial Hospital is in check and runs smoothly. She’s not afraid to stand up to high-profile doctors because she knows just how important her job is.
I honestly think that The Resident is not only one of the most underrated medical dramas currently on the air, but I also think it’s just underrated in general.
I’ve basically experienced every emotion while watching The Resident. This show is at its best when it shows the triumphs and downfalls of medicine. What sets The Resident apart from other shows in this genre is that it focuses on the ethical implications of medicine. Should you defend a fellow doctor if they make a mistake during surgery? Do you provide medical assistance when you know the patient doesn’t have medical insurance? These are the types of questions The Resident isn’t afraid to ask on a weekly basis.
One of the most gut-wrenching episodes of television I’ve ever watched was an episode of The Resident. It was a season two episode titled “If Not Now, When?” and it tackled racial basis among doctors and maternal mortality. It was actually based on a true story in which racial bias prevented a new mother from getting the treatment she desperately needed. In both the episode and real life, the mother died all because a doctor wouldn’t face the reality of his racism.
While I do care about the personal lives of the doctors, episodes like these that really focus on serious issues within the medical field are where medical dramas truly shine.
Grey’s Anatomy also did a great job back in the day of highlighting patient storylines. When I think back to some of the most impactful Grey’s Anatomy episodes, most of them have an emotional patient storyline in the mix.
The episode where the kid that got trapped in concrete. The one where two strangers get impaled by a pole. And every episode that involved a patient in Derek and Meredith’s Alzheimer’s trials have always stood out to me — even after all this time. It just goes to show that you can have all the drama in the world, but when it comes to a medical series, focusing on the medicine is what will win out.
As much as a love the actual medical components of a medical TV show, I can’t help to also love the drama within it as well. With more medical dramas entering the mix, each has to really go out of their way to stand out — and most of the time that means drama.
Why start a new medical series when you have classics like E.R. to binge? Would I rather commit to a new series that may not get more than a season or two, or rewatch House which I already know I love? It’s sort of the age-old question for any TV series and is especially evident for medical dramas.
Oftentimes, the science jargon can be too much. Shows that are able to balance science and drama are the ones that truly excel. I mean, there’s a reason Grey’s Anatomy has been so successful all these years. The same can be said with E.R. which also lasted for a handful of seasons. Both were able to strike an equal balance between the medicine and the personal lives of the doctors they followed. They made you care for both and that goes a long way toward the success of these types of shows.
At the end of the day, if I choose to watch a show that I know is just going to amplify my hypochondria, then it better be worth my time.