Sky1’s Critical: Is Jed Mercurio’s new medical drama any good?

Anyone who watched the last series of Line of Duty on BBC One will know that Jed Mercurio knows how to write compelling drama, and now he’s returning to the medical genre with Critical, a 13-part series set in the trauma unit of a London hospital.

Explaining the thought process behind the show, Mercurio says that he wanted to “push the boundaries” of the genre further than ever before. He enjoyed huge success with his previous attempts, Bodies and Cardiac Arrest, so what can he do this time that he hasn’t already tried?

Within the opening two minutes, it’s clear that Critical is a very different beast to Mercurio’s previous work, and most other contemporary medical dramas. With the presence of a 24-style countdown clock, each episode takes place during a trauma patient’s “golden hour” – when it really is a case of life or death.

Critical has also been described as one of “the most realistic medical dramas” ever made, and the attention to detail is evident in this first instalment. Let’s be clear: Critical is a procedural drama with the focus placed on saving the ‘patient of the week’. It’s a bold move for Mercurio to place the character drama in the background, and that seems like it’s going to be the case throughout the series.

The question is, can a show that focuses so heavily on medical procedure sustain viewer interest over the course of three months? The jury is still out on that one, but from this first episode the signs are good. There’s enough going on away from the operating table to keep us interested, and there’s also some moments of light relief from Prasanna Puwanarajah, who plays flirty anaesthetist Ramakrishna.

Catherine Walker puts in a standout performance as Fiona, who must take charge of the trauma team when her manager, Lorraine (Claire Skinner), mysteriously disappears. As she and new recruit Harry, played by Fresh Meat‘s Kimberley Nixon, go against protocol to save the patient’s life, she perfectly conveys what is at stake for both the patient and her own career.

However, one thing is for certain: Critical is definitely not for the squeamish viewer. In this first episode alone, there’s a lot of blood, a nasty looking compound fracture and an open-heart procedure that can only be watched through your fingers. At a recent screening, Mercurio and his team said that these scenes are not being used for shock value; we’re merely seeing things through the eyes of the characters. This is true for the most part, although the shot from within an incision in the final third of the episode feels a little unnecessary and out of place.

One of most exciting elements of Critical is the casting of Lennie James, but his character, Glen Boyle, only gets a brief cameo in the closing moments of the episode. When Fiona learns that Lorraine has been suspended, she calls her ex asking for help.

As we’ve seen in the trailers for the show, he’s certainly going to make his presence felt when he joins the team next week – and if Critical is this good without his character, then it has huge potential with James on board.

Critical‘s first hour is undeniably compelling, but it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste. Some will say that it’s hard to care about a patient that you know almost nothing about, and some will find the frequent use of medical jargon rather off-putting. But despite its minor flaws, Critical is another brilliant offering from Mercurio, and one that will certainly get your heart racing.

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