'Combat Hospital' Series Premiere

Renée Scolaro Mora

What is all too clear is that Combat Hospital, despite the tension inherent in the title, is intent on playing it safe.

Combat Hospital

Airtime: Tuesdays, 10pm ET
Cast: Elias Koteas, Michelle Borth, Luke Mably, Terry Chen, Deborah Kara Unger
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: ABC
Director: Iain MacDonald
Air date: 2011-06-21

Combat Hospital sounds promising. Set in 2006 at a NATO medical unit in Kandahar, it holds out the possibility of moral dilemmas as well as the usual hospital show melodrama. There are no slick facilities and no mundane injuries here. The hospital is made of plywood and duct tape, doctors face life-or-death risks at every turn, operating in flak jackets and helmets with sidearms at the ready.

As Colonel Marks (Elias Koteas) gives newly arrived Canadian Major Rebecca Gordon (Michlle Borth) and American Captain Bobby Trang (Terry Chen) their first view of the hospital, he warns, "You'll find this place very unlike anything you've ever seen before." But Combat Hospital is exactly like everything that you've seen before.

Gordon is the rebellious, beautiful, and brilliant girl surgeon à la Meredith Grey, while Trang is a nervous, bright diagnostician (no doubt he’ll get his House-like medical mystery soon enough). But the most egregious lift is British neurosurgeon Simon Hill (Luke Mably), the only non-military -- and highly compensated -- doctor on staff. He's a mash-up of Hawkeye Pierce and Dr. McDreamy, whose unfortunate first line of dialogue is “We need more women.” This is soon followed by a tour of his pimped-out barracks, replete with a king-sized bed, Persian rugs, and an ample supply of vodka. Just when we think we can’t mutter “Seriously?” one more time, in strolls Major Pederson (Deborah Kara Unger), apparently the Hot Lips Houlihan of Afghanistan.

In fairness, the pilot episode, like all others, bears all the burden of introductions and set-ups, but these familiar types make the show impossible to take seriously. The one bright spot is Marks. The only character with anything like depth, he is alternately stern and compassionate, instructive and humble. Calling out Rebecca for overstepping, then following it up with, “Other than that, good job,” Marks is like the good dad who never forgets to hug his kid after disciplining him.

Apart from Marks, though, Combat Hospital is consistently weak. Personal storylines are thin, with Rebecca breaking up with her fiancé right before leaving for Kandahar. This means, of course, that as the show opens, she is taking a home pregnancy test in the bathroom of a C-130 as it's performing evasive maneuvers during a landing. Amazingly, her personal cell phone still works here and she spends the whole episode dodging her ex’s calls.

Captain Trang is fresh out of med school with a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face that screams failure-and-redemption subplot. Neither of them has any idea how all this is going to work, from the schedules to the rules, and they're immediately put through the rigors of who knows how many hours of duty without any rest. But first, they have to learn their place: when asked to mop up some blood off the floor, Rebecca responds with all the condescension she can muster: “You don’t understand. We’re doctors.” The RN (Arnold Pinnock) comes back with, “Does that mean we have to teach you how to mop?” Add “snarky nurses” to the stereotype checklist.

Unsurprisingly, the show’s handling of the war is something of a mixed bag, at least in this first episode. There is a lot of shorthand. Thuggish Halliburton-esque security forces with sinister one-liners are the most villainous, while the Western pop culture-loving Afghan interpreter Vans (Hamza Jeetooa), reduced to such trite commentary as “Dude!” and “Zat was so bad ass,” is the most offensive.

Still, the show makes a few worthwhile points. Major Pederson runs a women’s clinic for the Afghan women who, she explains, usually would not see a doctor since it would be shameful to be examined by a man. She is apparently encouraged in this effort by Colonel Marks, who turns a blind eye as Pederson is forced to steal supplies from the hospital since there is no official budget for the clinic. A cursory nod to a real plight (and where it falls on the official priority list) is something. Likewise, the dangers faced by the soldiers are also presented with a bit of detail. Yes, the immediate and visceral trauma of roadside bombs is center stage, but the show underscores as well the less obvious, yet equally dreadful collateral damage.

What is all too clear is that Combat Hospital, despite the tension inherent in the title, is intent on playing it safe. Why even try to situate such facile soap opera in the context of an ongoing war? It begs the question whether the show is exploitation or a reflection of how far removed and numbed U.S. audiences have become to a decade-long war effort that has long since landed on the media back burner. Regardless, the “medical drama” is far too paltry to sustain the series without ramping up the relevance of the war context.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

Award-winning folk artist Karine Polwart showcases humankind's innate link to the natural world in her spellbinding new music video.

One of the breakthrough folk artists of our time, Karine Polwart's work is often related to the innate connection that humanity has to the natural world. Her latest album, A Pocket of Wind Resistance, is largely reliant on these themes, having come about after Polwart observed the nature of a pink-footed geese migration and how it could be related to humankind's intrinsic dependency on one another.

Keep reading... Show less

Victory Is Never Assured in ‘Darkest Hour’

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (2017) (Photo by Jack English - © 2017 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. / IMDB)

Joe Wright's sharp and only occasionally sentimental snapshot of Churchill in extremis as the Nazi juggernaut looms serves as a handy political strategy companion piece to the more abstracted combat narrative of Dunkirk.

By the time a true legend has been shellacked into history, almost the only way for art to restore some sense of its drama is to return to the moment and treat it as though the outcome were not a foregone conclusion. That's in large part how Christopher Nolan's steely modernist summer combat epic Dunkirk managed to sustain tension; that, and the unfortunate yet dependable historical illiteracy of much of the moviegoing public.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.