Review: ABC’s ‘NY Med’ brings medicine to life

“NY Med,” which premieres Tuesday on ABC, is a surprisingly addictive medical docu-series, fascinating as much in form as it is in function. The third in a series of similarly-themed programs produced by Terence Wrong (fourth if you count the 2000 ABC News documentary “Hopkins 24/7"), “NY Med” appears less self-conscious about its medical pedigree than its predecessors, more willing to embrace the dramatic pacing and elasticities of television.

The pilot opens with a man visiting the emergency room with a pharmaceutically aided erection that has lasted more than four hours, moves almost immediately to a heart patient being treated by Dr. Mehmet Oz (in addition to being a celebrity medical advisor, he is still a practicing cardiothoracic surgeon) and ends with a lovely young resident surgeon belting out a couple of tunes in the hospital chapel.

This is not to say that “NY Med” doesn’t take its subject seriously — stories of surgical successes and failures work the heartstrings and tear ducts very effectively, and we meet a full cast of dedicated doctors and nurses who handle a variety of situations with amazing aplomb and professionalism. It is a very crowded pilot, both story-wise and tonally. By the time you’re done it’s difficult to know what exactly just hit you; while you’re pondering the simple bravery of ordinary humans facing down life-threatening medical conditions, you might also find yourself wondering if people really do become surgeons because their singing careers don’t work out, and is this a potential story line on"Smash”?

Subsequent episodes settle down a bit — in the next two episodes, there is no singing and Oz doesn’t make another appearance until Episode 5. Still, “NY Med” is a far cry from slow and earnest “Hopkins,” which premiered in 2008, and even more fleet-footed and fluid than “Boston Med,” which debuted two years ago.

Like “Boston Med,” “NY Med” follows an assortment of doctors and patients at teaching hospitals, this time New York Presbyterian’s Columbia and Weill Cornell medical centers, which allows a broader range of cases and personalities than did “Hopkins.” But Wrong also made a conscious effort this time around to streamline his stories and offer a greater contrast in mood in the hopes of creating a documentary that moves like a scripted drama.

Miraculously, he achieves this without sacrificing the integrity of the subject and the series’ essential theme: That a hospital is a place where life-changing events, both tragic and transformative, occur on a daily basis. Moving deftly between surgical procedures (as with the previous series, transplants figure heavily mainly because they really are so amazing to watch) and vignettes involving the personal lives of both medical staff and patients, Wrong spends less time telling, whether through on-camera diagnosis or lengthy meeting scenes, and more time showing, using the often frantic pace of the narratives to evoke the feeling of life in a high-volume hospital.

Enough recurring characters emerge to keep the show hooked to some consistency, but the mix of humor and pathos, of tragedy and triumph makes “NY Med” high-energy and emotionally affecting, a new species of show altogether.