In the crowded landscape of medical dramas it can be a challenge to cut through. You need to find a point of difference and avoid constantly being compared to Grey’s Anatomy.
The premise of Pulse is indeed a tall order. It centres around Frankie Bell (Claire van der Boom), a former transplant patient who, 8 years later, chooses to return the favour by becoming a transplant doctor herself.
If you’re thinking that would be enough to stop a pitch right there you’re not alone, but according to the publicity notes, it’s inspired by a true story. Medical truth is stranger than medical fiction, I guess…
Frankie is now in her second year as a practising doctor, starting her first day in a Renal rotation when she is faced with an emergency in the hospital car park. But she is quick to action, remaining calm, and helps save the life of young mother, Zoe (Melissa Bonne).
Her boss Chad Berger (Owen Teale) is less enthused about her first day in his unit -Frankie was his own patient and the knowledge of her own transplant past is known to only a handful.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he tells her. “Your body doesn’t have what it takes.”
Despite her protests, Berger doubts she will succeed.
“With your health issues, how are you going to manage?”
But Frankie is determined to prove her worth, as is her friend, housemate and vet-turned-surgeon, Lou (Andrea Demetriades). Obstinate senior surgeon Cutter (Susie Porter) has little time for Lou’s nerves in her theatre. Viewers may feel dizzy themselves by the confronting visuals in the operating theatre, with anatomical shots that are not for the squeamish.
Frankie’s biggest dilemmas arise from moral questions around her patients, including a dialysis patient (Daniel Amalm) needing life-saving organs. Her attachment to those whose life can be determined by a roulette-like waiting list is Frankie’s biggest flaw. With Berger breathing down her neck this will be difficult to navigate.
The casting of Pulse is one of its best attributes, particularly with multicultural performers (Asian, African, European) in medical positions. There are fresh faces to be found amongst seasoned performers, without any of it ever feeling like ‘star casting.’
Claire van der Boom again proves what an under-rated actress she is (move over, Sarah Snook). Frankie presents as strong, with emotional connections and flaws, but without heroic upstaging. There’s no Dr. House saving the day here. Owen Teale, best known for Game of Thrones, brings gravitas to his role, juggling the dilemma of being Frankie’s boss and doctor.
Susie Porter revels in her role as a hard-arsed surgeon, while Andrea Demetriades and Liam McIntyre (Spartacus) add to this fine ensemble -and adding Penny Cook as Head Nurse Carol is bloody genius. But I look forward to discovering more of the support cast.
It was also great to see Daniel Amalm and Zoe Carides in guest roles.
The writing by Kris Wyld and Mel Hill initially feels very serious and dry, but Pulse‘s commitment to its medicine should win you over. Save for one lustful diversion, it avoids constantly obsessing with workplace romance.
Director Peter Andrikidis also steers with a confident hand, creatively playing with focus to bring a visual distinctiveness to the canvas.
It’s been a long time since ABC has had an ongoing medical drama (GP, MDA, ANZAC Nurses anyone?) and Pulse is perhaps the strongest of its kind since TEN’s under-appreciated The Surgeon back in 2005.
Despite its surprising premise the sum of the parts works well here. Pulse beats with a strong heart. The prognosis is healthy. But I would always recommend you seek a second opinion too.
Pulse premieres 8:30pm Thursday July 20 on ABC.