TV Review |

Absence Makes the Art Grow Fonder

Michael Handelzalts
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From the TV series 'Casualty'.
Michael Handelzalts

The worldwide spectrum of TVSWH (TV Screen Watching Habits) spans the gamut from having your life programmed by the providers – scheduling your day according to the times your favorite shows are aired – to being a free human being, sampling TV content online at your leisure. The former is how things used to be viewed. The latter is, supposedly, the “Frightened” (as opposed to “Brave”) New World.

But we live in the present, at least for the time being, so most of us partake of our audiovisual diet in a hybrid fashion. Take me, for example – but do not take me too seriously, please. I face my screen with a remote in my right hand (politically I lean left, but I have to use my right hand to get the right results) and let my thumb do the work, pressing the channel selector to zap through the shows offered by the provider of my choice, up and down, “parking” on a channel to see if it holds my attention for more than a few seconds. This is how I manage to feel like a free agent while at the same time obeying “their” – whoever they are – schedules.

So, after the theoretical preamble, here’s my viewer’s diary from Saturday last. When you let yourself surf the airwaves and alight on a channel, you see something happening on the screen while a banner underneath informs you of the time of day, the title of the show being screened, with information – presented graphically – of the portion still unaired, plus the title of the next program. If the next show happens to be the one you fancy and is due in, say, 15 minutes, you (that is, me) may decide to stick around, rather than move on and risk forgetting to return on time.

That’s how I got to see the last part of a 2012 episode of “Richard E. Grant’s Hotel Secrets.” Grant was recently on our screens in “Dig” (a show cocreated and produced by the Israeli Gideon Raff), as an ambitious and wicked archaeologist who finds himself manipulated by two rival messianic groups on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. In the “Hotel Secrets” series, Grant wanders all over the world’s five-stars hotels, retelling salacious scandals of yesteryear.

The channel was BBC Entertainment (42 on HOT, 32 on Yes). I was biding my time (because that’s the kind of guy I am), until the start of the 32nd episode of the 29th season of my favorite series, “Casualty.” That’s how I got to see Grant tracking down – and chatting with – former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss. At the age of 25, she was supplying high-class call girls to an exclusive and anonymous – to this very day, thanks to her discretion – male clientele.

Fleiss got caught unawares while stoned in the early 1990s, was apprehended by the police, lost all her trade and fortune, and served some time. Now she lives alone in the middle of the Nevada desert in a place called Pahrump, and runs a laundromat there called – you’d never have guessed – Dirty Laundry. She shares the house with exotic birds and, prodded by the charmingly chatty Grant, looks and sounds as vivacious as she ever – I imagine – has been.

Hanging off a cliff

All good things (and bad things, too) come to an end, though, and the opening theme to “Casualty” began to sound, along with the disclaimer: “The following program contains scenes of a distressing nature. Parental guidance is advised.”

I have written about “Casualty” – the longest-running medical television series – on these pages more than once, most recently to eulogize the paramedic Jeff Collier (played by Matt Bardock), who was killed off in episode five of the current season. Now we are – in Israel – hanging off a cliff, as it were, after episode 32, “Exile.” In England, meanwhile, episode 36, “The Golden Hours,” aired last Sunday, with 12 more until the end of the season.

It’s my favorite series, but that doesn’t mean I tune in every week (on Fridays in Israel, with a rerun the following afternoon). On the contrary: like with your favorite remote relative, I like to drop in once in a while to have some fun, fully confident the series thrives just fine without me, an everlasting presence in an otherwise (too-quickly) changing world.

The “Exile” episode sees the series moving from its “comfort zone” – as far as one can use the adjective “comfort” with regard to an emergency room in the fictional city of Holby, where lives have been saved and characters killed off for nearly three decades – to Romania.

Charlie Fairhead, the senior charge nurse and last character standing from series 1, episode 1 (played by Derek Thompson, who holds the series kernel in the palm of his hand) flies both to Bucharest and the rescue of his errant drug-addict son Louis, all the while taking on the local mafia almost single-handedly.

Almost, since he is ably assisted by damsel-in-distress-who-can-handle-it-on-her-own-thank-you Connie Beauchamp, the former but ultimately not disgraced clinical lead of the casualty ward at Holby General. She’s played by Amanda Mealing, who started her medical TV career in sister-series “Holby City,” before crossing over to ‘Casualty” last season. As things stand now – or rather, as they move fast – she has been driven from her senior position by staff machinations (2C2E: Too Complicated To Explain). And, judging by her haughty and overbearing demeanor as a boss, good riddance.

Perfectly flawed

Anyway, in “Exile,” Connie and Charlie face the Bucharest underworld, argue about their inner conflicts of career vs. life, save lives metaphorically and medically, and emerge unscathed, as befits characters who are the life and soul of the series, being so perfectly fictionally flawed.

The episode ends with Charlie driving a hired Renault, his barely-alive son on the back seat, the rear windscreen shattered by bullets, and the pursuers’ BMW overturned on the highway (Charlie turns out to be a demolition derby driver as well). Connie is stranded in Bucharest, forging close and personal ties with a local, corrupt but charming – and handsome – medic.

This week’s episode is called “Against the Odds.” I really should be tuning in to find out what happens next. But I don’t have to, really. I trust that Charlie, Connie and “Casualty” will survive and thrive. There is much virtue in that trinity of Cs. Just wait and see.

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