One of the marvels of the internet is Hulu.com, which allows you to watch previous episodes of TV shows that you missed, something that used to require a VCR. This made it possible for your reviewer to catch up on previous episodes of ABC’s summer replacement series Combat Hospital, to see what he had been missing, and to discover, in short order, that he hadn’t been missing much.
Combat Hospital is set in a Canadian military hospital in Afghanistan in 2006, and it feels a bit like what General Hospital, ABC’s long running daytime soap, would be, if Port Charles was a whole lot dustier, and everyone at General Hospital wore BDUs on the job. Sports excepted, network television gave up on trying to reach a male audience long ago and almost every drama series on TV is targeted at women. Combat Hospital is no exception. Much of a typical episode is taken up with the relationship issues of the characters, and their various romantic problems. (Not all of them straight. Christina Cox showed up as a lesbian character a couple of episodes back, with a crush on an Australian psychiatrist played by Deborah Kara Unger, though whether anything will come of this is unclear. She may go back to her ex-husband, also a soldier, whom she left when she decided she was a lesbian.)
In a way, this is a bit like Battle: Los Angeles, a fun Marines vs. alien invaders movie. Much of that film was actually set in a police station, where the Marines had been surrounded. Why a police station? Because to Hollywood, the military is terra incognita. Police stations are familiar ground. Something similar is at work here. The people behind this knew neither the military nor Afghanistan, but they know hospital drama, and they know soap opera, and they pretty much stick to what they’re good at. Their ignorance about the military crops up in the occasional technical goof, as when an American Sergeant can be seen with his stripes on upside down.
Recent subplots have featured a Canadian surgeon played by Michelle Borth trying fulfill the last wish of a dead soldier to be an organ donor even though he had not signed the requisite paperwork. In another episode, Borth finds herself being bullied by a swinish American Colonel when a pilot to whom she had refused to give stimulants dies in a crash - Colonel Swinish is intent on proving, despite evidence, that the pilot died because of fatigue, and claims Borth could have prevented it. Of course he fails at this (Borth being more or less the star of the show), but the conflict seems to be resolved more by the clock running out on the episode than by anything else.
The actors in this show are all of them at least competent, and some of them, notably Luke Mably as a self centered British neurosurgeon, are quite good. Ms Borth could transition over to daytime soaps, or even civilian prime time soaps, or even the next iteration of Law and Order or CSI without missing a beat. So could Elias Koteas, who plays the tough but compassionate Canadian officer in command of the hospital. Of course, several of them look a bit young for the ranks they supposedly hold, but this is prime time soap, and pretty counts. In general, most of these people look more like soap opera actors than soldiers.
Will the cute Asian girl ever manage to seduce the cute Asian guy with the sexy tats? Will the lesbian soldier manage to win the heart of the Aussie psychiatrist? Or will she rekindle the flame with her ex-husband? And what about the Taliban? These and other pointless questions may be answered in our next episode of Combat Hospital. Or not. But given the ratings for this show, they better be answered quickly.
Combat Hospital airs on Tuesday nights on ABC at 10:00 pm Eastern, 9:00 Central. Consult local listings