Thursday, March 20, 2014

Streaming misadventure: Mikhail A. Bulgakov's A YOUNG DOCTOR'S NOTEBOOK hits home screen

The main reason for most Americans to view A YOUNG DOCTOR'S HANDBOOK, the four-part British TV series from 2012 now streaming on Netflix, will not be the famed Russian writer/doctor Mikhail A. Bulgakov, on whose work the series is based. Even though the late Bulkagov wrote The Master and the Margarita and is considered one of modern Russia's foremost literary stars, the real stars here are the two lead actors Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm -- the former playing the title character, the latter his elder self.

While misters Radcliffe and Hamm are both fine actors who have proven their worth time and again, this is stunt/star casting at its looniest, as neither actor remotely resembles the other, especially concerning their height. (Well, maybe in Russia, males never reach their full growth until well into adulthood?)

In any case, what we have here is something that looks, sounds and smells like Brit situation-comedy except set, oddly enough, in a Russia where everyone has a crisp British accent -- except our two leads. Mr. Radcliffe loses his own natural accent to sound like something from the famed "Mid-Atlantic" region, while Mr. Hamm keep his own perfectly acceptable America model, except for the word can't -- which comes out like he is telling us about German philosopher, Immanuel Kant.

What were they thinking? The tone here is so dead wrong: almost shockingly obvious and seeming to go mostly for cheap laughs and last-minute surprises that make us think we're watching one of those O'Henry stories rather than something by Bulgakov.

Purporting to tell us all about this young doctor's first year of practice and the various patients he sees out in the Russian sticks (just about the time of a certain very famous revolution), the series soon exhausts every old joke about the novice practitioner confronting the locals, as well as his first amputation, childbirth, you name it. And all the while the older doctor's there, too -- unseen by anyone except his younger self -- kibitzing, warning, trying to help but achieving little.

Simultaneously too short (to achieve any depth or caring on our part) and too long (due to its constant repetition of situations and supposed jokes), the one thing the series has going for it is that, should you stick around to watch all four of the first section, you'll only have spent a total of about 88 minutes -- no more than you'd waste on some little independent movie.

The series begins in the office of the older doctor, with the police rummaging through his things. It is not much of a spoiler (you'll learn it within the next episode) to tell you that they could easily have re-titled A Young Doctor's Notebook into The Morphine Follies.

The first of two four-part seasons is available now via Netflix streaming and Amazon Instant Video.

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