‘This is Going to Hurt’ proves there’s Pleasure in Pain

by | Feb 2, 2022 | All, Reviews

We’ve all known someone in the office who has had “you don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps” emblazoned across their coffee mug but in the case of Adam Kay it was his humour that got him through his days working for the NHS. A defence tool he utilised to great effect after retiring as a Doctor when in 2017 he published his diary entries with his book ‘This Is Going To Hurt: Secret Diaries Of A Junior Doctor‘ to great acclaim. This led to one man theatre shows and now, as if the man hasn’t achieved enough, a television adaptation. Kay has experience in writing for the small screen too with the likes of Crims and Mongrels on his CV but the big question with any adaptation is how successful will it be when transferred from fonts to pixels. Put it this way, he was a Doctor so you should trust him.

A story set in an Obstetrics and Gynaecology ward may not sound glamourous because, well, it isn’t but casting the boyishly good looking Ben Whishaw as the lead certainly helps the often blood-splattered scenery. It’s like a botch job of thin paint over a crime scene. For that reason, Whishaw is perfectly cast. He balances the brittle, both physically and emotionally with an impish charm. It’s a job that makes a man of him even if it proves to be a man he doesn’t like. He is our guide and the tool by which he engages with the audience is to literally break the fourth wall and talk to the camera. Not huge monologues via narration just quick asides almost to assure himself as much as the audience. These are not stirring life-affirming speeches in the style of J.D from Scrubs, these are insults to the patients and fellow colleagues. It’s a device that might jar at first because it’s used most extensively in the first episode and the first half-hour in particular fools us into a false sense of security.

ER, Casualty, Holby City, Grey’s Anatomy.. the list goes on. TV suffers from the same chronic fatigue syndrome of hospital-based storytelling as it does cop shows so it might be purposeful that the opening throes of This Is Going To Hurt play out like a slapstick caper. Innuendo and physical comedy ensue the moment Kay wakes up in his car in the car park. We are catapulted straight into his chaotic workday and if we learn anything it’s that you should ask a lady if you can look up her skirt first. The aforementioned shows make clear that it’s very difficult to offer new perspectives on very well trodden wards but Adam Kay has mastered a new breed of medical drama.

Adam (BEN WHISHAW) – (C) Sister

The dark humour is so typically British. From the cynicism of a training course where patients now have to be called clients to Kinder Eggs in very surprising places. It’s that balance between sarcasm and tragedy we can all relate to. It’s in the syncing of the beauty of new life with the exposed guts of everyday pain. For this doesn’t just take place in hospital. We also follow Kay into even messier areas of his personal life, a personal life in bits thanks to long working days and a busy mind. This is also about what he takes home and that’s what really hurts the most. A struggling relationship, awful parents and a rotting baby in the fridge do not make for a perfect home life. The work/life balance is also explored elsewhere and the show exposes the fundamental flaws at the heart of the NHS. Long hours, understaffed wards and buildings in need of repair. The list could go on and on and when the Secretary Of State pays a visit after they try to do that paint job over the murder scene, Kay has a perfect coded response. In an age where we clap NHS workers but don’t give them a pay rise, where the rich got richer from PPE and doctors and nurses were making them from bin bags, this show shines a light on their sacrifice. Fallible human beings but heroes. They are the flawed heroes who we literally trust with our lives. And what could be more British than smiling through a crisis? This Is Going To Hurt is the smile AND the crisis.

Shruti (AMBIKA MOD), Adam (BEN WHISHAW)

While Adam Kay is the central focus there’s so much to be admired in the supporting cast. Ambika Mod, an up and coming comedian and actor shines as Shruti, a fragile trainee who might not be cut out for cutting out placentas. More by fault than design Kay takes her under his wing and proceeds to give lessons in how not to do things. Mod is a wonderful screen presence, warm and likeable. The scenes where she phones her parents are heartbreaking but her weaknesses are partly her strength – plus she pulls some amazing faces too. Michelle Austin plays a blinder in the beleaguered “I’ve had it up to here with this shit” form of Tracy. But just you wait for the arrival of Ashley McGuire as the feared Miss Houghton, a person as funny as she is despicable. What a performance from McGuire to have that ability to make you laugh along with her but also give you a deep uneasy feeling whenever she’s on the screen. An unsettling comedic masterclass. Alex Jennings shouldn’t go unmentioned either. Yes, he’s being VERY Alex Jennings but in this context his grandiose pomp is suitably at odds with his shoddy surroundings.

The dialogue is razor sharp and believable, zinging from one patient to the next, between home and hospital it flows so beautifully. Spillages of innards never feel at odds with moments of Kay struggling to tell his parents that he’s gay. Adam and Shruti cannot tell their truths to others because they can’t admit it to themselves. Along with well-crafted wordplay, the camera follows the staff like an intrusive fly on the wall. Never relenting through the tears, never grimacing at the gore. If this all sounds too heavy, please be assured that this is a comedy-drama. It never languishes too long on the catastrophes nor does the comical veer close to flippant. That said, if you don’t like the sound of stomachs being stretched open then maybe you should stick with Scrubs.

For all the seemingly wanton destruction and criticism that is being heaped on both the NHS and the BBC there’s an irony, to say the least that it is Auntie herself who is coming out with contemporary social and political commentary and while This Is Going To Hurt focuses quite a lot on what’s going on under the belt it always punches up. The public funding of both provides the public with wonderful services. One saves lives and gives birth to new lives and the other entertains and educates.

Adam (BEN WHISHAW) – (C) Sister

We will be worse off without the pair of them despite their flaws. BBC Drama has got off to an incredible start in 2022 with The Tourist and The Responder already setting the bar high and This Is Going To Hurt maintains that ambitious storytelling. These programmes should not be mere plasters over ever-increasing wounds but the life support that stops the British Broadcasting Corporation being in paralysis. The good news is, if you’re feeling pain then you’re still alive. Sure, It’s Going To Hurt really does hurt but you’ll enjoy it nevertheless.

This is Going To Hurt begins Tuesday 8th February on BBC One. All episodes will be available on BBC iPlayer from launch.

Michael Lee

Michael Lee

02/02/2022

I live in Devon and getting an accent against my will. Never one for sci-fi until I started believing in Vampires, Werewolves and Ghosts. Drama and comedy obsessive which suits the two sides of my personality - misery and bad jokes.

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