Is The Resident Fox’s new House M.D.?

THE RESIDENT Photo: Guy D'Alema/FOX via Fox Press Site
THE RESIDENT Photo: Guy D'Alema/FOX via Fox Press Site /

Almost 15 years after the premiere of Fox’s award-winning series House M.D., the network is delving back into the trenches of hospitals and medical mysteries. This time, through the lens of a newly minted doctor who is quickly learning that medicine isn’t all about healing the sick, in its newest drama, The Resident.

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The Resident isn’t really anything like House, aside from the shades of first year residents eager to learn up against a jaded third year resident who isn’t afraid to talk back to the Chief of Surgery – who is both less caustic than Dr. House and also 1,000 times worse – and/or stand up to the hospital itself. Okay so The Resident is basically House M.D. if the latter series flipped its script and its ideology.

The thing is it’s hard to make a name for yourself in the TV world of medicine when you’re trying to take an honest look at what it means to be a doctor. Which is a question that pretty much all of these shows are asking to varying degrees of success. What does it mean to be a doctor?

To a series like House it meant being this superior, egomaniac with appalling bedside manner and a pretty severe addiction to vicodin. To Nurse Jackie it meant being an egomaniac, sex-aholic, with a pretty severe addition to some other nondescript narcotic – I’m sensing a pattern here. Okay so egomania and addictions are big things in the medical drama and The Resident is full of that.

But then you have series like ER where the answer to what it means to be a doctor is a bit more complex. It was about the medicine and the doctors who practice it but it was also about the doctors having lives outside (but really inside the hospital) and how that played into their ability to be good doctors. Similarly Grey’s Anatomy is known for its clandestine hook-ups in elevators and that it’s always a beautiful day to save lives. And Scrubs took a lighter note to the format but still found its grounding in the lives in the hospital vs hospital life. And you can see that at the heart of The Resident those themes are there as well.

The one similarity all of these shows have is that 90% of the time they get the medicine wrong. Like absolutely-cannot-happen-in-real-life, wrong. Now to know me is to know that I do enjoy the occasional medical drama. It’s generally in good fun, or at least supposed to be, for its suspension of belief and all of that. Though the small amount of knowledge I do have about working in a hospital probably makes me a nightmare to watch any of these shows with because there is often lots of scoffing at inaccuracies (for example every door ever opens in these shows and nobody has to swipe in anywhere because those ID badges they wear are for aesthetics and yes this is just the beginning of a very well-rehereased rant).

I guess the better question is not so much what makes a good doctor in these shows but what makes a good doctor show? Because really, why in a world where there are thousands of pharmaceutical advertisements on TV constantly are we inundated with these shows that bastardize medicine, doctors and everything they’re supposed to stand for?

The Resident wants to be a good medical drama. And I think that maybe it has the potential to grow into something better, given the opportunity (two of the main cast members are Marvel Cinematic Universe alums which is an endorsement enough in my book), which I guess is true about some real doctors too. But right now this show is irresponsible at best. And while I realize that sounds harsh since it’s so early on, TV series don’t last long as it is and I don’t see this snap judgement changing anytime soon. Mostly, I can’t help but wonder did the creators consult any actual doctors when they came up with the idea? Because that’s not a hard thing to do. They could even just Google some of this stuff!

I mean, I’m not a doctor (and I don’t play one on TV though maybe don’t give me the opportunity tell you how under represented the non-clinical staff of a hospital is) but even I know that CPR is not done on an abdomen – which is something I wish was an exaggeration. The Resident wants to be as smart as House (which just wasn’t as smart as it thought it was anyway), maybe smarter. But it has the ego before it’s even passed the boards! And in a series that relies on the differentials for diagnoses there isn’t much that makes any of the characters stand out.

the resident, fox
THE RESIDENT Photo: Justin Stephens/FOX via Fox Press Site /

Dr. Conrad Hawkins (Matt Czuchry) is the asshole senior resident who has been in the trenches (literally and figuratively) and he “makes” residents into doctors – which maybe is a thing, but I find it hard to believe a senior resident would have that authority, more often than not like in Grey’s Anatomy, they’re asserting their seniority and stealing interesting cases from their underlying. Anyway, Nicolette (Emily VanCamp) is a nurse who should probably be a doctor and she and Conrad have this whole on-again-off-again thing going on, which on that note to the show’s credit it started strong on the shirtless doctor front.

The first time we met Dr. Devon Pravesh (Manish Dayal) included such a scene. He’s in many ways the show’s current namesake. The unseasoned, idealistic, year one resident, though I’m sure if the show does well there will be many before him and after. Dr. Mina Okafor (Shaunette Renee Wilson) is the surgical resident (because apparently there’s only one in the entire hospital). And Dr. Bell (Bruce Greenwood) is the chief asshole or something, who is our pill popping, seasoned veteran; a highly recommended and acclaimed surgeon with a tremor that’s affecting his ability to operate and a is essentially a malpractice lawsuit waiting to happen. None of these people are particularly lovable, yet and there’s a few characters I haven’t even bothered to learn their names. It still boggles my mind that there was a nonsense sub-plot (that thankfully seemed to be dropped for the time being) in episode three about a hospital acapella group. What is with Fox and acapella groups?

The thing is, The Resident could be better. It has the right ideas and it has the fantasy elements. But maybe it needs to stop so heavy-handed with the cynicism. In the very first episode Nicolette even tells Dr. Pravesh that medicine as much about healing as it is a business. And in episode three the show tried to make a statement about insurance coverage and medicine and even Dreamers and the hospital administration played a pretty significant adversarial role (what happened to a responsibility of care?). These themes are definitely under-analyzed in other shows that are both currently on air and stuff that has long since ended, which is exactly why they deserve the time and energy to be explored.

There’s bound to be fallout from Dr. Bell taking credit for Dr. Okafor’s work using the hospital’s latest technology (technology that actually exists too) and I would definitely enjoy seeing it addressed from the different angles like seniority, gender, race the moment was hinting at. Never mind the potential effect working with Dr. Bell could have on Mina’s career. It’s all there ready to be examined but in order to posit anything meaningful the show first needs to get better at the basics.

House had its absurdities and strange medical cases and it was rewarded for its iconoclasm. And by that token Grey’s Anatomy is a dramatized version of #HospitalLyfe (to the best of my knowledge no one is making out in elevators, because seriously, no one has the time!). Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a little creative license, but what makes these shows easier to forgive for their egregious and often exaggerated take on medicine is that they at least built up their worlds enough that it’s easier to let go of the inaccuracies (for the record I’ve heard from credible sources that Scrubs actually got the whole TV doctor/medicine the most accurate). So while yes, I’m much more likely to excuse the fact that terrible things happen at Grey Sloan Memorial and it’s a wonder why anyone ever goes there, I can’t even tell you the name of the hospital in The Resident and since it’s gearing up to be a character in of itself and that’s a problem.

the resident, fox
THE RESIDENT Photo: Guy D’Alema/FOX via Fox Press Site /

The other issue The Resident is facing is that it’s currently pushing a narrative that this is what it’s a really like to be a resident. It wants us to believe that this is what it takes to become a doctor. I mean I can only imagine what a real residency program is like but I suppose there’s a lot of fascination in the journey since many medical dramas like to follow doctors from the early stages of their careers. And that’s great if that’s the approach this series is aiming for but then the show has a social and ethical responsibility to at least be somewhat accurate.

These other medical shows may not get the medicine right all the time, but the least The Resident can do is go for something a little more nuanced than “Oh, it’s hard to become a doctor.” Of course it’s hard! Of course it’s worth it! But maybe instead of opting to have everyone be a chauvinist pig, start by mimicking the correct way to do CPR. All of that being said, the making out in elevators may or may not be real, but I like to believe it is.

The Resident airs Mondays at 9/8c on Fox.