TV Show Review: Mercy Street

Mercy StreetEvery once in a while you’ll come across a tv show that captures your interest and imagination from the very first few minutes in. Downton Abbey was such a show.

Mercy Street is not.

Oh, I wanted to be a believer. I’m a history buff and a big fan of historical fiction. I enjoy seeing how writers can take real history and create fictional stories in and around real events and lives. I’m also a fan of PBS – it’s a terrific channel with some great programming. When I saw the trailers for Mercy Street, the first original series to come to PBS in years, I was excited.

It is executive produced by Ridley Scott. The cast includes Gary Cole and Donna Murphy. It should be EPIC! Right? Right? Yet it falls short.

The Rundown

The cinematography is fine. Not great, just fine. It’s a tv show, so normally you don’t go into it thinking you’re going to seeing something spectacular. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled with Downton Abbey, which DID have spectacular cinematography and came across more as art than television. I guess that’s my biggest beef with Mercy Street (well, that and the Union doctor who insists that the war isn’t about slavery at all but rather about preserving the Republic).

It’s just a tv show. It isn’t art.

The dialogue is painful in places. There were some questionable casting decisions. The delivery of the performances is bland at best and painful at worst. The story-line itself drags and we spend an hour really going nowhere. Some of the characters seemed better suited to be in a 21st century setting (which I’m not yet sure if the fault is with the actors or with the writing). And you can thank Ridley Scott, I’m sure, for the graphic gore of a Civil War era hospital. All said and done, it felt lackluster. My wife and I have yet to determine if we’re going to stick around for episode 2.

The Story

Mercy Street is about a Virginia hotel that is turned into a makeshift hospital. Well, I suppose it’s REALLY about the people in and around the hospital. Think ER in an 1864 setting.

Here’s the recipe:

  1. Doctors vs. Nurses
  2. Medical professionals do crazy things to save patients
  3. Romance and relationships develop throughout the whole thing
  4. Hospital personnel wrestle with personal drama/issues.
  5. Throw in a healthy mix of slavery and North vs. South story-line.
  6. Mix vigorously for 60 minutes. Pour into PBS-sized containers and served chilled.

From a biblical point of view, my favorite part is the discussion on the universality of humanity. One of the docs says something to the effect that there is no blue blood or grey blood – Soldiers are Soldiers. It’s a good point that Christians often forget. All humanity is made in God’s image. That means there is inherent value in every individual.

Where the show falls short, though, is that the doctor who espouses this “all blood is the same” ideology only applies it to white troops and fails to see how the same reasoning applies to people of color. There is no white blood or black blood – people are people. Yes, one of the nurses calls the doctor’s view of race “unenlightened,” but it goes beyond enlightenment. It’s about a basic biblical understanding of humanity and the image of God. I believe this can be a point all Christians can and should get behind.

Will I watch the next episode? I don’t know. Maybe. But I’m not excited about it.

Now ask me if I’m excited about the next episode of Downton Abbey…  😉


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