‘It’s Gonna Hurt’: Ben Whishaw AMC’s Medical Drama Covers Burnout
The AMC+ medical drama starring Ben Whishaw has all the dark humor and visceral anxiety of not knowing where your job really ends.
It’s no coincidence that, after more than two years of heightened uncertainty around the nature of work, some of the best shows of 2022 are tackling this idea head-on. Our pick for the top of the current drama heap is a fine example of taking collective anxiety and channeling it into a banal fantasy. One of the liveliest streaming premieres in recent weeks takes those ideas to the inner workings of a bustling kitchen.
“This is Going to Hurt,” then becomes a compelling companion piece, a medical drama that isn’t so much about solving the mystery of a physically and emotionally taxing job, but about coming to terms with how and why it happens. The AMC+ series is rooted in the experiences of Adam Kay, both as the character played by Ben Whishaw and the real-life former OB/GYN doctor whose memoir gives the series far more than its title. (Kay also adapted his own book and wrote all seven episodes for the season.)
The show is immersive on three fronts. “It’s Gonna Hurt” is set by following life on a labor ward through Adam’s experiences in an underfunded and overworked National Health Service hospital in the mid-2000s. It also focuses on Shruti Acharya (Ambika Mod), whose training and study regiment for exams is its own immense burden. There are also frequent recordings of Adam in court, breaking the fourth wall brought on by everything from rivalries in the workplace to unexpected developments in the delivery room to the constant demands to hold the spell. strangers in his literal hands.
Anika Molnar/Sister Pictures/BBC Studios/AMC
Intrusive thoughts and direct addresses are stylistic touches always on the verge of being overused, but here they serve a distinct purpose. Aside from the peppery medical jargon context necessary in cases where all that’s wrong isn’t immediately obvious to a layman, Whishaw’s staring straight down the barrel of the camera is as much escapism for Adam as it is for Adam. it is a building block. Not only do Adam’s personal walls close in on him, but directors Lucy Forbes and Tom Kingsley show how the lasting effects of a single mistake blur his ability to correctly perceive the world around him.
From a television structure perspective, “This is Going to Hurt” also does an impressive job of meeting the needs of the season with the needs of its main cast members. It’s just in that happy medium between the familiar beats of procedural medical drama (which, in their own way, could just as well be police shows with different outfits) with the longer-term considerations and consequences of this chosen profession. Overall, the season maintains the constant turnover of Adam and Shruti’s patients, while showing how these interactions never quite amount to a professional transaction or a personal connection. They’re in their own third category, one that should ring true for anyone in a similar position where there’s ambiguity about whether the job is really done or not.
Likewise, “It’s going to hurt” isn’t always all or nothing. It certainly has its share of medical emergencies, but the show also borders on the mundane and the weird. There are false alarms and unexpected extracted objects and late-night couch conversations that offer their own respites. Sometimes the answer to relieving a patient’s pain is to fix a small mistake rather than to offer a breakthrough, brilliant diagnosis. The show is not seven consecutive hours of rapid thinking, but the idea that the request for a split second could appear at any moment is what gives the series its tension and makes Adam and Shruti studies of immediate cases on mental and physical fatigue.
Anika Molnar/Sister Pictures/BBC Studios/AMC
There are plenty of times when “It’s Gonna Hurt” lets our guard down, even though anything that fills the void in the hospital brings its own unique stressors. (For anyone looking to fill their own Harriet Walter Questionable Parenting Technique TV fest, this is a third entry to pair with this week’s dual Emmy nominations.) Aside from the more universal issues of maintaining healthy relationships of all kinds despite heavy work demands, Kay also highlights the particular burden of not being able to communicate the true scope of what occupies someone’s day. As one supervisor said, “By the time you retire there will be a busload of dead babies with your name on them.” It’s a basic fact of the job – stated succinctly, but tactfully – and one that doesn’t translate very well to a little dinnertime conversation.
Perhaps the deeper question than “It’s going to hurt” is how much it’s all worth. The division of the UK healthcare system between public funding and private management ultimately offers Adam an explicit opportunity to examine the value of his knowledge and contributions across this line. In a way, it comes down to money, funds to repair and update, personnel and preparation. (One of the season’s most telling details is a familiar blue hospital privacy curtain, only here bearing a handful of stains that never fully washed away.)
Yet Kay and the show’s makers are also keen to point out the other, less definable weights that have come into focus for many over the past few years. Whishaw and Mod each carry that into their expressions and general body language in such an effective and self-aware way. And when tragedy inevitably strikes those in that hospital, it’s never the end of the story. “It’s Gonna Hurt” realizes that — even if it doesn’t involve scalpels, forceps, and bedside manner — work can be both what invites heartache and provides shelter from it all.
“This is Going to Hurt” is now available for full streaming on AMC+.