September 13, 2011

Things I (sort of) approve of: Combat Hospital

I just wanted to mention that after seeing my second episode, I have a grudging respect for what is, as far as I know, the first recent television drama about the Afghan conflict (or about the Canadian military, for that matter), Canada's Global Network's Combat Hospital.

Now it's no Generation Kill, to be sure. But for a drama filmed in Toronto, it does an okay job, I thought, of catching the ambiance of Kandahar Air Field, given the budget they probably had.

I first saw the seventh episode when it originally aired which centred on an overofficious investigation of a U.S. helicopter pilot who crashed his bird after being denied amphetamines actually raised some interesting issues about multinational operations, and subtly evoked the 2002 incident involving the killing of four Canadians by a U.S. pilot where amphetamine used played a tangential role. Last night I caught a rerun of the second episode, which had a lot more problems, but it's such a treat to see something made about the Canadian military experience it seems almost churlish to point some of the problems out.

Now the drama as a whole, which takes place in the once largely Canadian Role 3 medical facility at KAF, does suffer a little from the "everybody's beautiful" syndrome... ordinary Afghans looking radiant and well-dentured, every soldier with their shmawg perfectly in place in a way I was never able to achieve... but that's to be expected. There's also a lot more sex than I recall from my tour, but hey.

And a lot of the technical advice seems to have been quite good (lots of talk of 9-liners, and MISTs, and helicopters that look Canadian), too. All that said, the second plot's episode was not strong, realism-wise. One subplot involves the female lead sneaking an Afghan civilian into KAF for life-saving minor surgery (um, okay)... yeah, wouldn't happen. Oh I'm sure Canadian officers break rules all the time when they feel they have to (*cough cough*), it's just that in real life there's a perfectly good Afghan military hospital, complete with Western medical mentors, right next door at the ANA base which would have obviated the need for any sneakery in the scenario presented (and, indeed, was used for similar such purposes during my time there).

But regular viewers won't know those subtle complexities, of course, and it's all good fun, when the angry looking Afghan father secretly follows her daughter bursts into the hospital to... give the doctor a hug. Okay, that couldn't happen, either. He'd never have gotten past the ECP. But really, you couldn't do a friendly family medical drama in a facility operating with the real ground rules of KAF vis a vis the Afghan population, c. 2008. A Catch-22 remake, maybe.

Anyway, I can't really speak to realism in the interior hospital shots or procedures, so I won't. I never had reason to go to our Role 3 (although I did spend some time at the Afghan hospital). And the episode's stubborn quintessentially Canadian insistence on its theme that Afghans are people just like us was commendable. The fact that it's just not a lesson you could realistically use the KAF of my experience to demonstrate was not the writers' fault.

I will say one thing really bugged me, though. Maybe I only saw the only two episodes where this applies but... no French Canadian soldiers? At all? Are you kidding me? It's a real shame they couldn't have put one francophone in the mix: it's the one thing about this first attempt in my lifetime to put Canadian soldiers on the tube that rings horribly wrong. It's simply not our army, even if you're on an anglo rotation, if there isn't a little French being spoken around you at any given moment. And I'm not saying there's not obvious reasons why this is the case, but of their five Canadian military characters they have an African-Canadian male nurse, an East Asian Canadian woman, a white anglo Canadian woman, and two white anglo Canadian males as the colonel and chief warrant officer. Ours would be an interesting military indeed if that was truly a representative sample. Come on, guys, throw a franco in there for the second season.

Posted by BruceR at 10:39 PM