Lunchtable TV Talk: The Night Shift


Sometimes the stuff television offers feels like it’s churned out on a conveyor belt in a factory. Some time ago I watched the previous season(s) of The Night Shift, about a bunch of doctors working the – duh – overnight shift in a Texas hospital. It was not anything special – in fact when I picked up watching the latest season, I did not even remember that there had already been two, not one, seasons. But… I still kept watching.

Between seasons of The Night Shift, I started watching the Chicago juggernaut (Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, Chicago P.D.). Not only did Chicago Med (and all its gratuitous crossovers into the other Chicago properties) wash away all memory of The Night Shift, when The Night Shift returned, it felt and seemed a lot less interesting than it had been because it was a lot like watching more Chicago Med, only with characters I no longer remembered or recognized. (Weirder still, they are all on NBC in the US, so… burnout, anyone?

Despite the American appetite for medical, legal and cop shows, I’d think the idea of getting lost in the oversaturation of the theme(s) would be enough reason to look at different topics. I don’t know – despite the “danger” in being lost in a sea of sameness, people keep introducing new shows in the same mold, and some catch on while others don’t. I don’t know why. I tried to watch Code Black, but holy shit – I could not even get through one episode (it seemed badly miscast), but it was renewed – multiple times, maybe. I thought Monday Mornings was a good premise, and I liked it, but it didn’t last and its decent cast landed elsewhere (e.g., Jamie Bamber had a great turn in the deeply unsettling but immensely satisfying British crime drama, Marcella, and prolific and interactive Tweeter – she seems exceedingly generous with her time – Jennifer Finnigan is a lead in Tyrant). I thought a Jennifer Beals-led medical-supernatural drama, Proof, was overegged, and it too was canceled. Go figure.

The Night Shift, being rather lacklustre and lacking in any real hook, seemed like it might suffer a similar fate. Maybe watching Scott Wolf be an alcoholic surgeon “working the steps” (in The Night Shift) rather than Oliver Platt being a particularly intuitive psychiatrist (in Chicago Med) is the kind of thing that makes the difference. I don’t know. It’s not like either show is must-see… it’s just that this is what is on in the background as I am working on a million other things. It takes something really remarkable to make me look up from my work and pay close attention (and there are very few of those things right now).

Lunchtable TV Talk: The West Wing


I force-fed myself seven annoying seasons of The Gilmore Girls recently, thinking it could play unassumingly in the background while I did other things. But it was so annoying with too many fast-talking, high-pitched, histrionic characters that I could neither concentrate on and absorb it nor concentrate on everything else I was meant to be doing.

The West Wing, also seven seasons long, 22 episodes per season, is the opposite. (Hard to believe that it has been almost ten years since it ended!) It’s equally fast-talking and sometimes a bit preachy, but it is designed in a way that I can pay attention to it and do whatever else I need to do and get the most from both. I even heard Rob Lowe exclaim in exasperation, “Good night, nurse!” – an expression I had only ever heard my grandmother (and the character Mike Sloan in the long-gone but much-loved show Homefront) use (most people don’t believe me when I tell them that yes, in fact, this is a real expression).

I had seen isolated episodes of The West Wing during its original run, but most of it happened during a period when I did not watch much telly, much less ingest it like a pig at the trough as I do now. I was always impressed with The West Wing – its stories, its cast, its pace – but only now, thanks to Netflix, am I watching it from end to end. And it’s providing sheer contentment. I haven’t reached the point yet where Rob Lowe leaves or where John Spencer dies, depriving the show of one of its greatest assets.

Can you argue with a show that at its worst seems a little like a “very special episode” on some issue – but never overdoes it, really? And at its best, weaves words like “ensorcelled” into the script? Or with a show that during its run had a stellar leading cast and unparalleled caliber of guest stars (Oliver Platt, Edward James Olmos – he’s Admiral Adama now and forever for me, or Jaime Escalante!, Mary Louise Parker, John Larroquette, – great in his recent role in The Brink, Marlee Matlin, Gerald McRaney – who turns up everywhere, usually as a former or current military guy – and an insane, bursting list of others) but many others who were virtually unknown at the time but went on to other, big things (Ty Burrell of Modern Family, Evan Handler of Sex and the City and Californication, Nick Offerman of Parks & Recreation, Clark Gregg of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Danny Pudi of Community, Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives and American Crime, Lisa Edelstein of House and the mercilessly shitty Girlfriends Guide to Divorce, Jorja Fox of CSI, Lance Reddick of The Wire and Fringe and Connie Britton, looking teenager-young, of Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story and Nashville…). And more… so many more.

This show encapsulates Aaron Sorkin‘s golden age. America wasn’t ready for him or his style in the too-clever but too-soon Sports Night, and he went too far with the overblown The Newsroom. But The West Wing was the pinnacle.