Labor pains work both ways in This Is Going to Hurt, a harrowing seven-part tragicomedy (episodes drop weekly on AMC+ and Sundance Now) based on writer-creator Adam Kay’s memoir about life in a hospital maternity ward within the U.K.’s National Health Service.
“Ah, the fragrant air of underfunding,” quips the overworked, mentally exhausted and emotionally stressed Dr. Adam (the brilliant Ben Whishaw, an Emmy winner for A Very English Scandal) in one of many asides to the camera. He sets a sardonic tone of gallows humor that helps keep the viewer amused amid the appalling barrage of graphic medical crises and frequent heartbreak. (Not since reviewing ER‘s gripping “Love’s Labor’s Lost” episode way back in 1995 have I felt the need to alert women and couples who are expecting to maybe put off watching until later.)
Anika Molnar/Sister Pictures/BBC Studios/AMC
Hurt can be painful, but it’s also often moving and even inspiring to watch these doctors battle their own and the system’s limitations while shepherding the miracle of life — though you might wonder how any of these doctors survive. Adam Kay (who left medicine in 2010 to become a successful TV writer), as portrayed by Whishaw with weary self-lacerating wit, is a classic antihero who’s often his own worst enemy. “It must be hard maintaining a relationship what with your job — and your personality,” half-jokes one of the more sympathetic nurses on the ward.
Adam’s closeted-at-work personal life, including an overly compartmentalized relationship with an incredibly tolerant boyfriend (Rory Fleck Byrne), suffers when his career is imperiled after a misdiagnosis. “Very good at being sorry, aren’t you?” snaps a cantankerous elderly patient Adam can’t help but like. Haunted and haggard, often cloaked in bodily fluids, he takes out his anxiety, despair and insecurity on someone even more junior, the prematurely jaded trainee Shruti (the impressive Ambika Mod), who like her unwilling mentor is on an emotional roller coaster that threatens to leave her numb to the joys and pains of her patients.
“In life, like on labor ward, you never really know what’s around the corner,” notes a colleague who neatly sums up the appeal, and terrors, of this exacting profession and rewarding series.
This Is Going to Hurt, Limited Series Premiere, Thursday, June 2, AMC+ & Sundance Now