'A Young Doctor's Notebook'
(Jon Hamm, Daniel Radcliffe, et al / DVD / NR / 2014 / BBC Video)
Overview: Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) star in this insanely dark, and brilliantly hilarious 4-part comedy noir from the BBC. It’s 1917, on the eve of the Russian Revolution, and a young doctor (Radcliffe) arrives in the middle of the night to lead an eerie, back-woods hospital. Fresh from med school, he is completely unprepared for the bizarre people and alarming medical maladies that face him.
DVD Verdict: I was watching this mini series of only four episodes, each only twenty minutes long, and wondering. First, why am I watching this? Why am I enjoying it? It is the tale of an inexperienced doctor, fresh out of school forced to work in a small village. Set right after the first World War, or maybe even during it, in a region of Russia so remote that the war would not have counted anyway, it shows the barbaric medical practices of the time, the horrible transformation of a naive and idealistic doctor into a desensitized morphine addict.
But I did enjoy it. It is both comedy and terrible drama. The actors are perfect for their roles, the atmosphere is despondent and the Russian theme of the story gives an air of surreal to it all (even if for me personally, it is at least geographically closer than to an American audience). Even if about terrible things, the film is really quite quite good.
My second reason to wonder is how can a such a good show that is this dark and full of hopelessness even make the screen? Audiences will be shocked and disgusted by a period in human's history that they don't want to acknowledge and a character that is both very close to one's heart, but impossible to accept as similar to one.
I can only surmise that, just like the original short stories escaped the Russian censorship, the show also somehow managed to escape audience's democratic censorship of shows that are too real to watch. Quite hard to bear so much reality, in fact, but found myself immediately looking for clues for a next season. I doubt there will be one, but I would watch it if it were.
The history of the crew that got together to place on screen such an obscure collection of short stories is also fascinating. Do search for it, you will understand more about the background of the series and maybe even make you read the original material, why not? This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.