Call the Midwife

I watched the first season of Call The Midwife when it was first made available in the US, on PBS I think? I enjoyed it then and recently I noticed several more seasons were available on Netflix so I’ve been binging then. It’s a truly excellent show utterly unlike anything I’ve ever seen on American television. It is almost completely divorced from the usual tropes of TV drama, perhaps because it’s based very closely on the real memoirs of Jennifer Worth.

What really sets it apart is that this is a show without villains. Yes, there’s an occasional bad husband in the mix but they’re as rare as episodes of Law and Order where McCoy loses the case and the bad guy gets away. The people in the series are flawed, as real people are, but they’re never portrayed as cartoons, caricatures, or stereotypes. It’s incredibly refreshing. If there’s any villain to be seen in this series, it’s poverty and society; and even there it’s clear times are changing. The first season is almost a panegyric to the National Health Service.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the character of Sister Julienne, played by Jenny Agutter. Sister Julienne cares deeply about her patients and her fellow nurses. She has dedicated her life to a difficult, hard, low status job that actively helps people at some of their most difficult moments. She is competent, reliable, and effective. She is by any measure this side of the Good Place’s broken points system, a good person.

And yet, she is not warm. She is not friendly. She is strict, stern, and no-nonsense. On American television, she would probably be made into the antagonist for Jessica Raine’s Jenny Lee. Either that or she’d be turned into some sickeningly sweet bizarro version of herself, much like Disney did to P. L. Travers’ Mary Poppins. Hollywood can’t seem to conceive of characters like Sister Julienne. It prefers the bumbling, good-hearted incompetent to an effective but reserved protagonist.

Anyway, it’s an excellent show. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. If you have, watch it again. Hollywood could learn a lot from this one, though it probably won’t.

Leave a Reply