Film and TV

Reality Bites: Vanderbilt MDs

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Reality shows based on the various medical professions always end up concentrating on the actual work performed. This makes sense, as doctors, nurses, and EMTs and the like have jobs that are much more compelling than most of us cube jockeys. Several seasons of Trauma: Life in the E.R. and ... Untold Stories of the E.R. provided ample proof of this, if also showing how fond people are of watching their fellow man suffer in emergency rooms.

As a result, most of these shows only touched upon the personal lives of their subjects. Enter network TV, which has been filling this gap by churning out medical melodramas for decades. Everything from St. Elsewhere to E.R. to Grey's Anatomy relies on a formula combining gripping hospital action with allegedly moving personal drama, punctuated by seasonal absurdity.

The USA Network, not known for its forays into the genre, nonetheless is trying something new with Vanderbilt MDs. Unfortunately, throwing seven medical residents into a house Real World style and juxtaposing their personal interactions with their various duties at Vanderbilt University Medical Center didn't have the desired effect of "we work hard, we play hard." More like, "Hey, doctors are pretty much as douchey as anybody else."

I mentioned these Smugnificent Seven, but I'd be lying if I said I remembered all their names. Characteristically, the show focuses on a subset of the cast in any given week, and in The Episode I Watched, these were second-year resident Erin (and her long distance boyfriend [Joe?]), intern Whitney, and Louis, an ER resident and the only African-American cast member.

In a nutshell, Vanderbil MDs is much like those aforementioned TV dramas, only less exciting. That's not entirely true, I guess. The emergency room scenes are just as harrowing as you'd expect, with the added discomfort that comes with knowing these are real people with gunshot wounds and internal bleeding on the TV, pixelated faces or not. These situations progress on the show about like I expect they do in real life: with lots of blood and even more cursing.

No, it's the doctors' personal lives that come up lacking. Whitney, depicted here as something of the show's resident (sorry) party girl, appears to spend most of her free time drinking and macking on Erin's boyfriend. Two of the other guys (Mike and Tyson, ye gods) while away their free time with mildly amusing games and pranks: the loser of one wager has to wear a fanny pack to work. Quelle horreur. Obviously they're trying to give the cameras something, but they come across so blandly it's enough to make you wish the show never left the hospital.

[Among the other downsides of your show airing on the USA Network: promos for the new Denis Leary-produced series Sirens, AKA Rescue Me: First Class. Also, the five minute (literally) commercial for Cancer Treatment Centers of America, who don't have a facility in Nashville but are probably capitalizing on the abject terror at being treated by these goofs the rest of America is probably feeling.]

VMDs probably had potential. I say "had" because it's a miniseries and won't be following the cast around beyond the few months they spent in captivity together. Having said that, I don't know if an extended series order would be enough to make us care about Erin's oft-agonized over relationship. Here's some unsolicited advice for the medical professionals out there: it doesn't load your patients up with confidence to constantly check your watch. We know we're just diseased meatbags to you, but act like you give a shit.

And then there's Train, the trauma surgeon. Well, Dr. Train, but he goes by "Train," which is fitting because he *derails* every scene he's in. Get it?. But seriously, of all the cast he's the one who clearly has no idea what he's gotten into. His impatience with the juvenile antics of the interns is amusing for all of five seconds, but we still end up with ten minutes of it. Thanks, but if I want rolled eyes and passive-aggressive sighing I'll just spend time with my children.

Louis, the aforementioned emergency resident, is one of the more sympathetic cast members, and we spend some time following him as he visits his terminally ill (stage 4 lung cancer) aunt. Even so, his lament echoes what appears to be the show's overall theme: specifically, "Dealing with [X] is tough, but it's even harder when you're a *doctor*." We get the same from Erin: "Long distance relationships are hard, but even more so when you're a *doctor.*"

I'll grant these people work longer hours than many of us, and also deal with situations most of us never will, but if USA and/or Vanderbilt's aim was to somehow humanize these people, they should have focused more on the good work they do, and less on the largely out-of-touch/unsympathetic/obnoxious way they present themselves.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar