Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a crew of new medical residents invade an overworked hospital to learn from the most qualified doctors around, but are forced to overcome said doctor’s idiosyncrasies and each other. While some of the shows that balance these qualities have succeeded (ER, House, Grey’s Anatomy) at keeping our attention for years, can a new crop of shows (I’ll throw sophomore show The Night Shift in there) capture our hearts and make us believe?
Dr. Leanne Rorish (Marcia Gay Harden) is the ER residency director, and she’s received a new crop of residents, Christa Lorenson (Bonnie Somerville), Malaya Pineda (Melanie Chandra), Angus Leighton (Harry Ford), and Mario Savetti (Benjamin Hollingsworth). I’m sure we’ll learn more than enough about these residents by the end of the first season, but for now, they fall into subcategories with labels: the ‘old’ one, the ‘insecure’ one, the ‘super smart’ one, and the ‘rehabbed troublemaker’ one.
Rounding out the main cast are the diversifying Luis Guzmán as Jesse Salander, the nurse who manages the residents and is ‘Mom’ to Rorish’s ‘Dad’ in the ER. There’s also the supervising authority, Dr. Rollie Guthrie (William Allen Young) who knows Rorish is troubled but trusts her instincts, and Dr. Neal Hudson (Raza Jeffrey) who thinks Rorish is heading off a cliff but cares enough to cover for her.
In the first episode alone, we saw a brain injury, an organ donation, an emergency, out-of-hospital C-section, drug use, and more. It’s fast and furious in an emergency room short on supplies and space (hence, the “code black”) but ripe with inspiration from Ryan McGarry’s documentary. Even while packed with side stories and clinical examples, it still found time to punch home the appropriate life lesson.
Rorish asks Lorenson why she’s going through all of this in her “advanced age” (approximately forty, if I remember correctly), and Lorenson admits that she’s motivated by the death of her son. “You learn a lot when your kid is sick,” she shares, “so I figured I’d do this to make it official.” She goes on to tell Rorish that how you deal with your pain makes you who you are. She’s chosen to make a difference in the lives of the people she can save, while acknowledging that anger or numbness is a possibility – and recognizing the brokenness in Rorish’s eyes. [It’s hinted that Rorish lost a patient and that has drastically changed her.]
We are encouraged in Romans 12:12 to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” It’s telling that the Apostle Paul wants us to be different than what we’d expect of people, even the opposite. But this is the guy who wrote, “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” in Romans 5:3-5. How we respond to our hardships matters, Paul keeps telling us over and over again. If we’re honest, we’d admit it, too.
So these questions remain: Can Code Black prove its lasting power? How will the doctors respond when they fail, and will that matter for the life of the show?
My hypothesis says you can’t have one without the other.
Code Black airs on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on CBS.