TV for Hypochondriacs


“Watching” British television is an interesting experience for an American. I usually don’t get what’s happening and I have to pay close attention to the subtitles the whole time. I spend a lot of time deciphering the smoldering, pregnant glares the characters give each other instead of words. When you grew up watching American good guys lay out the bad guys’ entire plans and bad guys who explicitly explain their motivations, British TV is tough.

Then there’s the humors. There is one level of humor meant as a bone for the global audience (most of Love, Actually) and then there is the level of humor meant only for British people. If you aren’t British, the only way to discover these is to watch a show with a Brit, when they laugh and you don’t, that’s a British humor. Mark it down and watch it time and time again, you will never figure it out. Trust me.

It is with these things in mind that I turn on a British television show. It’s an investment in time and effort and in the end I might be starting at a wall saying “Wait, was it the guy who lived on the boat?” It was with that tentative unease that last Saturday I put on Doc Martin. Doc Martin is about a doctor (Martin), a brilliant surgeon who develops a sudden fear of blood. He moves to Cornwall where he becomes a small-town GP. And he is a total dick.    

Doc Martin has a pretty regular format. In the beginning of each episode, a patient comes into the office, Doc Martin diagnoses the patient’s (seemingly simple) problem, the patient goes on to engage in some adventures in the British countryside, and somewhere along the way the problem is revealed to be much worse. Doc Martin figures it out in time to save the patient’s life. In one episode a fisherman thinks he’s gotten a concussion, which turns out to be a life-threatening case of mercury poisoning from eating too much of his own seabass. Doc Martin is a dick in the beginning, the middle, and the end of each episode.

With Doc Martin my unease is doubled. Not only can I sometimes not figure out who everyone I and what they think about each other, but because of Doc Martin’sformat. When I put on the show, I was dealing with a minor health issue. An inner-ear inflammation was causing dizzy spells and nausea. I had gone to my doctor who diagnosed it after some basic questions and he prescribed a pill that was meant to fix up my ear and make me feel like puking less. It, more or less, was working when I snuggled into my couch to watch Doc Martin last Saturday. A patient walks into the office says “I’m dizzy and feeling sick” and Doc Martin berates his stupidity and prescribes him the exact same medicine I was currently on.

At this point, I stopped the show. This is because of the format. In the end of the episode, what awful disease was this poor fellow actually going to be suffering from? Namely, what awful disease would I end up suffering from? I didn’t want to know. I did some jumping lunges to convince myself that the medicine I was taking was working very well and I watched good old American baseball. The Brits have their confusing cultural aspects, and we have ours.

I am a hypochondriac. Every pimple is melanoma, every gas pain colon cancer. And I love TV and movies, to whose content I am highly susceptible. I couldn’t watch ER for fear that I’d come down with aggravated symptomology of something I couldn’t pronounce. Same goes for St. Elsewhere and House. Movies have caused me to come down with Cerebral Palsy, Schizophrenia, and whatever that kid from Mask had. The less said about the week after I saw Pride of the Yankees the better.   

Ironically, my favorite show of all time is M*A*S*H, where weekly the doctors were putting together the brutalized bodies of young men. But I loved it all the same, because it had tents and drinking and Alan Alda and even as an avowed hypochondriac I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get shot in Korea.

After some hemming and hawing, I eventually scanned ahead with the sound off. I don’t know what that poor patient had, but it caused him to fall off a lighthouse and into the rocky ocean below. But who knows what that means in a British TV show.

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