ABC's new drama finds its feet by sticking with medicine, with an ensemble led by Claire van der Boom.

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.

16 Responses

  1. As a former carer for my husband who had renal failure (we did haemodialysis at home for 9 years) I was interested in how many “mistakes” I would spot in the show. Amazingly not too many 😉 But I take issue with the patient who had missed 3 dialysis sessions – if he’d missed that many he’d be feeling really crook not to mention bloated with fluid overload. Taking 6 litres off in one session is also a bit much – there would be problems with blood pressure crashing not to mention cramping.

  2. Thank heavens I was not the only one who thought Pulse completely flatlined. The writing was awful and predictable. I nearly fell off my chair when the black surgeon has sex with the white doctor and she grabs her mobile phone during the lovemaking. Really !! The dialogue was trite. JUst as bad as Newton’s Law. Thank heavens for shows like Janet King. ABC needs to bring back quality dramas like Doctor Blake Mysteries , Barracuda and Seven Types of Ambiguity.

  3. See, I told you it would be terrible.

    Like I said on July 12: “…earnest characters who presumably spend most of the show shouting at each other in an attempt at injecting conflict into the story…”

  4. Wouldn’t it be interesting if she started to provide deserving patients with the organs they required by being ‘proactive’-could be Australia’s version of ‘Dexter’ and that would be a novel approach…

  5. David this show sounds like a complete load of unbelievable drivel and clichés. Of course the cast and production will be good. We have great actors and technicians but the writing inevitably lets us down. Do we seriously believe a senior doctor is going to tell a young doctor who was a transplant patient that she is not physically up to it? The ABC audience is discerning and it flocks to the best of British shows which are well written, well researched and usually highly credible. It is no surprise then that the ABC can’t find an audience with its local production. It is simply not up to standard and nobody seems to be doing anything about it. Where is the rigour here?

    1. Victor I am not an ABC spokesperson. I am reviewing a preview. I wasn’t aware some readers apparently knew the show better than me. Your ongoing ABC issues should be taken to ABC complaints dept or your local member, clearly I’m not of any use.

    2. Unfortunately it is naive to think a senior doctor wouldn’t say that to his junior, and likely worse.
      – I am a junior doctor with a chronic illness. I have been told by 3 different specialists and my supervising physician whilst a medical resident in the public system that my health is not up to this, I have been told worse. I work between 60-80 hours per week, and have had 4 hospitalisations for my illness in the last 12 months, including coronary care units. In a way, they are right, but noones health is up to this, but this is what you have to do to be a doctor in Australia.
      We have lost so many young doctors in the last year – to suicide, to car accidents when too tired to drive. Did you know that the profession in Australia most likely to kill themselves are female doctors aged 25-40?
      The doctor on whom this story is based, who I know personally, is keenly aware of this too,…

  6. Does seem to be quite a few of the sale old, same old cast …Andrea Demetriades for one has been in quite a few dramas on ABC TV.
    Also not a big fan of medical dramas but the talented Susie Porter is always worth watching.

  7. So it’s a dull, plodding formula show from the same producers, writers and directors of every other dull, plodding formula show on TV, and starring the same old faces playing earnest characters who presumably spend most of the show shouting at each other in an attempt at injecting conflict into the story? And Australian TV wonders why it has problems attracting an audience…

      1. OK, I’ll give it a go, but I’ve been disappointed by recent ABC TV drama (I’m looking at you Glitch, Cleverman, Newton’s Law and Seven Types of Ambiguity, all of which were dull, plodding and earnest). Nothing in the trailer suggests otherwise.

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