Life or death situations typically make for compelling television.
In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death, taxes and the fact that medical dramas will never go out of style. It’s easy to figure out why, as the medical profession lends itself to drama due to the high stakes involved. Not to mention the fact that, with most shows, the medical stuff is a placeholder or metaphor for more interesting and emotional arcs concerning the doctors, which creates engaging storylines. As much as we would like to avoid visiting a physical hospital, thank you very much, we’re OK with spending time inside a fictional one.
According to the Internet, the oldest medical drama is considered to be City Hospital, which started airing on CBS in the US back in 1951. We’ve come a long way since, with the genre developing a wide range of clichés one can count on when tuning in. The list includes steamy hook-ups on hospital grounds, one of the doctors getting sick, an old yet charming patient dying, treating someone without insurance, having a genius doctor who also happens to be a jerk, and so on.
The weird thing is that, despite being predictable, these tropes will pull in any fan of the genre every time. You just can’t help getting another dose of your irresistible drama with a side of blood and guts and crying relatives. So we’re going to prescribe you more. Side effects include never leaving your house again. You’ve been warned.
1. Grey’s Anatomy
At this point, Grey’s Anatomy is a veteran as far as medical dramas are concerned. The series revolves around a bunch of doctors (as you might imagine) and has tackled everything from affairs to ghost sex to love triangles to catastrophes, yet still somehow manages to feel fresh 15 seasons in.
If you need a refresher, it centres on Meredith Grey, who starts as an intern at a Seattle hospital and slowly works her way to becoming an overall amazing professional/human, while surrounded by an ever-changing cast of diverse and engaging colleagues, each carrying around their own emotional baggage. It’s a fascinating series, especially when the creators manage to tell important stories about domestic violence, transgender rights and health care for women of colour. If you’re looking for a serious binge, better start with this one. You can purchase it from digital retailers like iTunes, Google Play and Microsoft Store.
2. The Good Doctor
The Good Doctor follows Shaun Murphy, a brilliant young surgeon who is also autistic. His mentor arranges for him to get a job at a prestigious hospital, which comes with all sorts of new challenges for Shaun. However, despite the fact that he finds it hard to connect with other humans, his abilities help him save lives and he quickly becomes part of the team.
Although only in its second season, The Good Doctor is already a hit, thanks to intelligent storylines, enough emotion to keep viewers engaged and a topnotch performance from Freddie Highmore in the lead role. Not to mention the fact that the show does a great job of explaining how autistic people may not process the world the same way as neurotypical individuals. Buy it from digital retailers, with episodes available to purchase from Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft Store and PlayStation Store.
Before we had Grey’s Anatomy, there was ER, a show with a similar premise but a different setting. This time, all the action takes place in the emergency room, as doctors deal with crisis after crisis and have to make difficult decisions on a regular basis. A landmark medical drama, ER is timeless and when it became available to stream on Hulu in the US earlier this year, it caused a lot of excitement.
It’s easy to figure out why: besides intriguing storylines and captivating characters, the series also broke new ground in production design and direction. It felt more like you were watching a movie than a TV show. That’s expected for television nowadays, but back in the 90s it was a huge deal. Oh, it also has George Clooney in it. Buy it from Google Play or iTunes and enjoy.
4. Chicago Med
There’s no shortage of Chicago shows out there, that’s what makes Dick Wolfe’s Chicago a franchise. Med is the third instalment in the franchise, after Fire and PD. It follows the doctors and nurses working at the emergency department of a Chicago hospital. (This is the last time we’re going to write the word Chicago, honest.)
Despite not bringing anything particularly new to the table for the medical genre, the series is compulsively watchable, perfectly balancing human drama with interesting medical cases. Also, you don’t need to watch the other shows in the franchise to understand what’s going on. There are crossover episodes, but you’ll get the gist without being caught up on what the firemen and policemen are up to. The show is available to purchase from digital retailers. You can also buy episodes from iTunes, Google Play, Microsoft Store and PlayStation Store.
5. House MD
Dr House is the type of TV character you either love or hate. Brilliantly portrayed by Hugh Laurie, he is brutally honest, ridiculously smart and incredibly antisocial, which makes the show so compelling to watch. House MD revolves around the brilliant doctor as he solves medical puzzles with the help of his usually baffled employees. House has no sort of bedside manner, but gets away with it because he’s able to diagnose patients that others can’t. As a result, his supervisors and underlings tolerate his wild ways.
House MD was a successful and highly influential medical drama during its original run, proving that doctors don’t have to be these saint-like figures to be appreciated by viewers. All they need is a whole lot of depth. You can stream all eight seasons of House MD on Amazon Prime Video.
6. Private Practice
A Grey’s Anatomy spin-off, Private Practice follows Dr Addison Montgomery as she relocates to LA and joins a trendy clinic run by some of her friends. Here, she works alongside a fertility doctor, a paediatrician and a psychologist, as well as alternative-medicine specialists.
While the series is more about the drama surrounding the doctors than the medicine itself, it provides some fun insights into alternative treatments and gives Addison room to grow as a character after escaping a toxic love triangle. Plus, the talented cast often compensates for the overly wacky storylines and the show doesn’t shy away from tackling important subjects like rape, mental health and motherhood. Private Practice is available from digital retailers. You can buy episodes from Google Play, iTunes or Microsoft Store.
7. The Resident
A more recent addition to the roster of quality medical dramas, The Resident centres on an idealistic young doctor who starts working at a hospital under the tutelage of a more pragmatic mentor, who believes it's important to shatter the romantic illusions of the first-year residents to help them survive on the job.
It’s a fun series for viewers disenchanted with medical care, as it focuses on the behind-the-scenes politics going on at a major hospital. There’s plenty of witty dialogue to keep you entertained and the fact that it raises questions about the code of ethics doctors are expected to follow provides a refreshing approach to the medical genre. You can buy episodes from digital retailers, as well as Google Play, iTunes and Microsoft Store.
8. Code Black
Code Black follows the staff members from a busy emergency room as they deal with a staggering influx of patients. They race to save lives under a lot of pressure, since the number of patients they have is often too overwhelming for their limited resources.
That makes for riveting medical television, as the show puts more emphasis on the cases than the personal lives of the doctors. Don’t worry, though, there’s plenty of drama to go around. It’s the ideal show for those who religiously watched ER back when it was on the air and feel like Grey’s Anatomy features too much melodrama. Code Black is available to purchase from digital retailers and from Google Play, iTunes and Microsoft Store.
9. The Knick
Interested in the history of healthcare? You’re in luck. The Knick takes place in the early 1900s, following a doctor who pushes the boundaries of medicine and pioneers important procedures, despite battling a painful past and severe cocaine addiction.
The doctors in The Knick struggle to provide quality care for their patients in a hospital where keeping the doors opened for new cases is a struggle, which adds another level of drama to the proceedings. Thanks to stunning visuals and great performances, this period medical drama is both addictive and historically interesting. You can stream it on Foxtel Now.
10. The Mob Doctor
A completely different breed of medical drama, The Mob Doctor centres on a surgeon who puts her future on the line in order to help a family member. She agrees to work for the mob to pay off her brother’s debts and has to learn how to juggle the demands of her day job with her extracurricular activities.
This is not prestige television, but it’s the perfect series for viewers who like medical shows and appreciate a new spin on the genre. A clumsy combination of gangster shenanigans and medical drama, The Mob Doctor never fails to entertain, mainly thanks to the absurd situations the main character is put in. You might not be moved to tears, but you’ll definitely be dazzled by the doctor’s swagger. The series is available to purchase from Google Play.
11. Emily Owens MD
A short-lived, yet charming series, Emily Owens MD follows a surgical intern who soon finds out that the hospital social hierarchy is as cliquey as high school. She has to work alongside her med school crush and her high school nemesis, which doesn’t make things easy for Emily. While she might never become one of the cool kids, she certainly has the skill to grow into a great doctor.
Mamie Gummer is endlessly appealing in the title role and the show, at only 13 episodes, is like a breath of fresh air, great for when you need a break from the more dramatic entries on our list. Buy it from iTunes.
12. A Young Doctor's Notebook
Similarly to The Knick, A Young Doctor’s Notebook takes a period approach to medicine. This time, we follow a young physician in a small village at the dawn of the Russian Revolution. The twist? The show features humorous conversations between the older version of the doctor, portrayed by Jon Hamm, as he mocks his younger self, played by Daniel Radcliffe.
A dark comedy based on short stories by Mikhail Bulgakov, this limited series gets the balance between tragedy and comedy right, featuring just enough gore to make you dizzy. Purchase it from Google Play and enjoy the demented storytelling, as well as the amazing performances from the two leads.
13. Saving Hope
A common complaint among people who don’t watch medical dramas is that they’re too cheesy. That’s not always the case… except for when it is. Saving Hope follows chief of surgery Charlie Harris, who ends up in a coma. He leaves his body and starts to wander around the hospital in spirit form, while his fiancée and the other doctors in the facility go about their lives, dealing with difficult medical decisions on a regular basis.
It’s a wacky premise, sure, and the show isn’t afraid to veer into cheesy territory. However, the characters are so appealing that you’ll quickly forget about the weirdness and just enjoy the ride. All in all, the series is pure comfort. You can purchase Saving Hope from digital retailers. The show is also available on iTunes, Google Play, Microsoft Store and Playstation Store.
14. Nurse Jackie
For some reason, Nurse Jackie is classified as a comedy, despite the serious issues it tackles, often with a lot of tact and grace. The show centres on an emergency room nurse who cares for her patients deeply, but also struggles with pill addiction on the side, a problem that affects all the areas of her life.
While the series does boast some comedic undertones, it's more dramatic than one might expect, with Jackie’s slow descent into addiction as compelling as it is horrifying. Edie Falco gives a brilliant performance in the lead role, with a talented supporting cast backing her up along the way. Nurse Jackie is available to stream on Stan.
15. The Night Shift
The Night Shift follows a group of emergency room doctors as they struggle to get things done during the odd night hours at a financially struggling hospital. The hospital is surrounded by military bases, so several of its employees are veterans, led by bad boy TC Callahan, a brilliant doctor who doesn’t care much for rules.
At its core, this is a pretty formulaic medical drama which wins bonus points for its fast pace and engaging characters. We wouldn’t recommend the series if you’re new to the genre. But if you’ve already binged the giants, it’s a fun show to relax with. You can stream The Night Shift on Amazon Prime Video.
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