British TV channel Channel 4 has recently been thrown into a dilemma; with Friends, Frasier and Sex in the City at the end of their runs, it's faced with the possibility of having nothing new to fill its schedules, just endless repeats. Arrested Development is going to arrive later this week, but that's going to be shown on a different channel.

To help fill the hole in the Friday evening schedule, Channel 4 now has a comedy series set in a hospital, produced and co-written by Victoria Pile. It is Green Wing, filmed on location in an actual East Hampton hospital. It first aired on September 3, 2004. Quite possibly to bump up ratings, most of the actors have previously featured in other comedies.

Green Wing has other gimmicks — slow motion and sped-up film is used to fast-forward through the silent setup to a gag and slo-mo used for underlining punchlines and letting them sink in. This seems to be a turn-off for quite a few people, but once you get used to it it doesn't feel that intrusive. There's also the musical flourishes provided by Trellis used to bookend scenes and emphasise punchlines.

The structure of the show is pretty loose. Though it's been billed as a soap, a drama and a comedy, it's probably most accurate to describe it as a cross between a sketch show and a sitcom. Most of the jokes (such as two of the characters using a medical scanner to find which packets of crisps have £20 notes hidden inside them) don't bear any relation to the plot of the episode, but there is definite character and plot development.

Personal opinion: Green Wing delivers in its role as Channel 4's Saviour of Friday Nights. It's got a nice mix of subtle sight humour, some sophomoric stuff, recognisable situations and amusing characters whose interrelationships aren't immediately obvious but are satisfying to tease apart. Plus, each episode is a full 55 minutes long. With a series of nine episodes, that's roughly the same amount of comedy as a full season of The Simpsons. Plus, it's doing quite well. According to the Media supplement of The Guardian for 27 September 2004, the fourth episode's initial broadcast got 2.2 viewers.1

Main characters

Dr. Caroline Todd

Played by Tamsin Greig (also seen in Black Books and on the stage and silver screen).

The new member of staff, used as the driving force behind the first episode where she starts work at the hospital and wanders around meeting the other characters. The most normal of the characters, and often finds herself a victim of others' machinations. She starts out with a house all to herself, but advertises for a lodger and subsequently helps Angela to move in. Isn't sure whether or not to lust after Guy.

Dr. Macartney (aka Mac)

Played by Julian Rhind-Tutt (previous credits include: Black Books, Absolutely Fabulous, Notting Hill)

A surgeon angling for promotion to consultant. Once had a six-year relationship with a woman called Holly; the two came apart after she became pregnant and got an abortion in order to pursue her career. Engages in macho competition (even in the operating theatre) with Guy and usually comes out on top. Has a nice knack of using hospital policy and rules to get out of trouble and the requests others make of him.

Dr. Guillaume Valerie Secretan (aka Guy)

Played by Stephen Mangan (previous credits include: I'm Alan Partridge)

An insecure anaesthetist, half Swiss, and looking like the donkey from Shrek. Mercilessly teases and is teased. To the women in the hospital, he's quite smooth-talking (except in one case) but meets his match in Mac, for whom he reserves sneakier underhand tactics. He apparently also had a night of passion with Sue White, which involved "anal penetration". Guy's mother died when he was very young. My favourite character, simply because he spends much of his time antagonising the others. Tries to bed Caroline as a trophy but screws up his chances when he lets slip his true nature as an insensitive slut.

Dr. Martin Dear

Played by Karl Theobald (previous credits include: Custard)

It's not too clear exactly what Martin does in the hospital. He's usually seen in the break room or just pottering around. What we do know is that he's going to be taking his exams (once again) and is pretty nervous about them. He often seeks solace in Sue, the staff liason officer, but is invariably frustrated by her. Martin likes to hang out with Guy, Mac, Boyce or Caroline (whom he fancies). Guy gives Martin the nicknames "Fartin" and "Doctor Tit". Fretfully naive, he considers himself to be "in love" with Caroline. Ahh.

Joanna Clore

Played by Pippa Haywood (previous credits include: The Brittas Empire, The Bill, Jonathan Creek)

Head of Human Resources. Desperately chases men, while trying to convince herself that she looks younger than she is. (When she walks past a bunch of builders without getting a wolf whistle, she yells out to them "Oi, wankers!" and opens her shirt to them.) She's alternately bored by and attracted to Dr. Statham. Is Martin's mother, but tries to deny it and belittle him at every opportunity.

Dr. Alan Statham

Played by Mark Heap (previous credits include: Brass Eye, Jam, Big Train, Spaced)

Radiology consultant, in love with Joanna. Often the butt of others' jokes, particularly those of Boyce, who winds him up at every opportunity (which is pretty easy to do). He gives Joanna a locket filled with his own semen for her birthday. When it leaks, he offers to refill it.

Sue White

Played by Michelle Gomez (previous credits include: The Book Group, The Bill, Taggart, Carrie and Barry)

Staff liaison officer. Unsurprisingly, she doesn't like helping others and so spends each episode giving each character who comes into her office a mindfuck and engages in random activities when there's nothing to do. Sue wants Mac badly, so much so that when she misses her chance to buy an evening with him at a charity slave auction, she lets loose a terrible primal scream.

Dr. Angela Hunter

Played by Sarah Alexander (previous credits include: Coupling, Smack the Pony, Drop the Dead Donkey, The Vagina Monologues)

Senior Registrar in paediatrics. Angela doesn't do that much on her own. Most of her scenes involve Caroline, whom she irritates by moving in, having loud sex with her boyfriend Liam, moving a harp into the house in the night and playing it loudly and impeccably.

Boyce

Played by Oliver Chris (previous credits include: Casualty, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, Sweet Medicine)

A junior house officer, one of Dr. Statham's students. More of a peripheral character, primarily serving as an antagonist to Dr. Statham. He's probably the one who steered an ominously humming RC miniature airship with "HOMO" written in pink lettering on its side into Statham's office, scaring him out.

Speedy synopsis of the first series

Having spent the night in the car, Dr Todd comes in for her first day of work as a surgical registrar sweating and unprepared. Introduced to the array of strange colleagues, she ends up at Guy's flat, where she blocks his toilet with a big shit.

The next morning, Guy has to take Todd in to work in his car. She spends the day attempting to defuse the consequent rumours that she slept with him while Guy perpetuates them. That is, until she blackmails him into signing a statement that the pair of them slept separately.

Three characters undergo testing at the same time; Martin takes his exams, and Joanna and office worker Harriet take urine tests to see if they're pregnant. A mix-up leads to Alan getting his hopes up for being a father, only to have them cruelly dashed when Joanna reveals that she isn't pregnant and then dumps him.

Guy blows his chance with Dr Todd by accidentally revealing his fundamentally callous nature. At the charity staff slave auction, Joanna buys a night out with computer consultant Lyndon and Boyce buys an evening with Alan, who twitches at the thought of having to eat in a restaurant with his constant tormentor. Alan and Boyce end up sleeping together, while Joanna is devastated when Lyndon reveals that he finds her repellent, desperate and generally undesirable.

Things escalate towards a climax as Mac drops a bombshell — he's moving away to Sheffield to take up a position as a consultant surgeon. Caroline tries to discourage him from doing so by attempting to dig up dirt on Sheffield and his new girlfriend. Martin attempts to get revenge after Guy pulls yet another prank on him by stealing one of Guy's letters. Reading it, he discovers a horrible secret.

Mac challenges Guy to a parting bet — he bets that Guy can't bed Joanna. Fortunately, Joanna is happy to shag Guy and they make their way to his flat, where Guy videotapes them having sex. Martin chases after them, arriving as the pair sit having a post-coital conversation. He brings the news that he and Guy are brothers and Joanna their mother.

Assisted by alcohol, Guy flips out and attacks Martin and Joanna with a syringe full of Botox. At work, Mac and Caroline hear about the incident and leave for Guy's flat in an ambulance. Once they arrive, Martin drags himself outside and into the ambulance, waiting to be dispatched for treatment. As Guy runs out and drives away in the vehicle, Mac sprints after him and leaps inside it through its open doors.

By the next morning, Guy has succeeded in driving Mac and Martin to somewhere in the Welsh countryside. In a fatalistic mood, he tosses Mac's mobile phone out of the driver's seat window and starts fighting him. Losing control of the ambulance, it skids through a field and comes to a halt on a creaky cliff. End episode.

Footnote

1 http://media.guardian.co.uk/overnights/story/0,7965,1298307,00.html (needs free registration)
Relevant quote: The Channel 4 show was watched by 2.2 million viewers and attracted an 11% audience share between 9.30pm and 10.35pm, according to unofficial overnights.

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