I don’t know why this show is classified as a comedy.
Is it funny? Yes. There are certainly moments of hilarity that catch you by surprise and make you actually LOL, but they are far outnumbered by the sheer depressiveness that drives the actual plot.
In “A Young Doctor’s Notebook,”
Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe plays a med school graduate in 1917 Russia. He’s a star student with zero experience, sent out to a small village in the middle of an unending blizzard. The nearest town is three days away, and not surprisingly, our hero is less than thrilled about this, especially with all the excitement happening in Moscow.
The reason we’re being introduced to the young doctor’s rather unfortunate circumstances is because of Jon Hamm, who plays the same doctor 17 years later, in 1934. He’s under investigation and in the process finds the notebook he kept of that time, which also chronicles his descent into morphine addiction, something he is trying to hide from the Revolutionary Guard going through all his stuff.
So not really the premise for a comedy, although again, the show has its moments of hilarity. Mostly these come from the city-bred, educated doctor’s clash with the uneducated residents of this sad little village, whose idea of medicine is limited to “gargle” and “drops.” In one particularly dark/hilarious scene, Radcliffe is insisting on operating on a young girl who is unconscious and clearly dying, her face completely blue. Her mother, sobbing and terrified of surgery, asks, “Can’t you just give her some drops?”
I’m going to be honest and say that I was predisposed to liking this show. I have a fascination with anything set in Russia during the first half of the 20th century, especially during or around the Russian revolution. I also like comedies. As much as I like it, however, there is no denying that the show is dark. Visually, the setting is gloomy and gray. Radcliffe’s life is incredibly dull, stuck as he is in this little hospital surrounded by 12 feet of snow. He becomes more and more disinterested in his patients’ welfare in the face of their ignorance and their admittedly blase attitude to health and hygiene. Still, because the seasons are so short (four episodes each), it seems like he succumbs to depression rather quickly.
Hamm, meanwhile, is struggling to hide his morphine addiction. This is where the show loses me a little. Hamm watches his younger self take morphine and laments his fate, but in reality that’s just not how painkiller addictions work. It’s not something that kicks in from the first moment, especially if, as in the case of our young doctor, you take the painkiller for actual pain. As long as you’re taking a painkiller for genuine physical pain, you should not get addicted – this is why morphine is used in hospitals, but not cocaine or opium (anymore, at least).
In any case, “A Young Doctor’s Notebook” is a show I highly recommend. It’s the kind of show that’s a new take on the well-known setting of revolution-era Russia and pokes a little fun at it while at the same time addressing a difficult – and very modern – issue. One thing I know for sure, after this show, I’m going to read Tolstoy with a very different mindset.