TV Series Review: Hospital Playlist (S1) (2020), This Latest Hospital Drama is a Breath of Fresh Air

I am of the opinion that there are only a few times in your lifetime when your mind will be at its crystal clearest. Just for a few seconds, your consciousness wouldn’t be bombarded by 101 thoughts; only one singular thought screams at you and you will know exactly what you need to do. It could be you staring down a 100-metre sprint from the starting point; it could be you staring at a car as yours careened towards it, wondering why you had rushed the red light; it could be you in a doctor’s office, waiting anxiously for the test results as you scan every minutiae on the doctor’s face for positive news. Some years ago, in the wee hours of a hospital’s Accident and Emergency room, a doctor told me I needed immediate surgery on my right eye. My girlfriend was holding my hand at that moment and later she would tell me my hand turned cold and my face was drained of colour the moment the doctor related the news.

There are lots of these keenly observed scenes in Hospital Playlist, one which was particularly moving – a man, surrounded by his immediate family, was told he is in dire need of a liver operation; everybody turns to the wife and say she is the ideal donor, she weeps but the reason is not immediately clear. Nothing escapes the doctor’s eyes as he dismisses all the rest of family members except for the wife. Interestingly, writer Lee Woo-Jung and director Shin Won-Ho, are seasoned hands at the way they drop revelations. After being schooled by them in the excellent series Reply 1988 (2015), I know they will do a ABCE and drop the D somewhere further on in the episode. By that point, the audience would have been thoroughly engaged and craving for that elusive D to be revealed, and when it comes, it comes like a tidal wave of feels.

Hospital Playlist is the umpteenth drama series using a hospital as the setting. Through the years I have seen so many – E.R., Chicago Hope, Grey’s Anatomy and that’s just the American ones. There are certain genre tropes that these hospital dramas adhere to, like using the urgent life-and-death everyday situations to contrast the emotional entanglements and couplings of the medical staff is practically carved in stone. So it came as a huge surprise that Hospital Playlist doesn’t do the usual tricks. In fact, its coolest trick is to do no tricks at all. If Hospital Playlist were food, it would be a cynic’s full-on chocolate binge.

The story follows five friends who met in college and now work at the same hospital. Chae Song-Hwa is the only belle in the ensemble and she is a brain surgeon; Lee Ik-Jun (Jo Jung-Suk) is a gastric surgeon and the funny one. Then there is Kim Jun-Wan (Jung Kyung-Ho), a heart surgeon and the seemingly coldest one among them, while Ahn Jeong-Won (Yoo Yeon-Seok) is a caring paediatric surgeon whose mood swings according to how his young patients are healing. Rounding up the close-knit quintet is Yang Seok-Hyeong (Kim Dae-Myung), an obstetrician who cares deeply about his variety shows and mother. After a hard day’s work, they will meet for meals and sometimes unwind through playing together in a band.

This is not a plot-driven series. The story follows the doctors as they solve medical problems as their daily activities intersect with other resident doctors and staff. There is no villainy, no love triangles, no darkest before the dawn moments and get this… their friendship is never tested at all. In fact, it doesn’t even go down the road of protracted will-they-or-won’t-they romantic agony until the second half of the series. It took me a while to get the laid back appeal because I was too entrenched in how most stories are usually told. The vibe here is so natural and slice of a surgeon’s life as they interweave with many characters. In lesser hands, it would quickly become episodic but it never becomes that and neither does it slip into sappiness and misused sentimentality. It wisely retains just enough of the pain and disappointment of real life to temper with its peaceful, easy feeling of a vibe. This is a breath of fresh air.

The performances never become saccharine with characters’ feelings running hot and cold, capably radiating emotions that you can’t help but seesaw back and forth along with them. Many of the keenly observed human behaviour are spot-on. Have you ever gone to your medical appointment punctually but had to wait way past your appointed time and as each minute crawled by your frustration rose up by notches? There is a scene just like this in the last episode and the conclusion of that storyline put a stone in my heart and a hitch in my breath. I think I will never be flustered anymore while waiting to see the doctor after this episode.

There is much joy to be had with Hospital Playlist and my favourite scenes are seeing the friends having a meal, while poking fun at each other and rushing to complete each other’s sentences, and most definitely the scenes of them jamming. All the good shows have a metaphor embedded in the storyline, them having an amazing time jamming together is a sublime metaphor. I have no idea if they can actually play musical instruments, but they are very convincing in those lovely scenes. They could have fooled me and their love for each other is the real deal. How else can you make music so perfectly – every instrument coming together in the perfect timing and never undercutting another, supporting one and another. Their friendship is what fuels them and us. How I wished I had friends like these.

A hospital is never a nice place to visit and somebody’s music playlist is always subjective, but Hospital Playlist is one hospital you need to check in for an enjoyable time and it has a playlist that will worm its way into your heart. Bring on season 2.

4.5 / 5

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