The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 22: How TV could make this world a better place #COVID19

TRANSPLANT — Season: 1 — Pictured: (l-r) Torri Higginson as Claire Malone, John Hannah as Jed Bishop, Hamza Haq as Bashir Hamed, Jim Watson as Theo Hunter, Laurence Leboeuf as Magalie Leblanc, Ayiah Issa as June Curtis — (Photo by: Fabrice Gaetan/Sphere Media/NBC)

When I was in high school, my friends and I were into M*A*S*H — so much so that we nicknamed ourselves after M*A*S*H characters (my best friend and I used to argue over which one of us was Hawkeye or B.J.), and we tried to outdo each other any time the local radio station asked M*A*S*H trivia questions. Even to this day, any time I come across a M*A*S*H rerun on TV, I just have to turn the channel to it.

One of the things I appreciated about M*A*S*H was that it wasn’t afraid to take on social issues. Several episodes took on hot-button topics, such as racism, alcoholism, politics, religion, and so on. It made for some interesting episodes, and I think they made the show all the better.

Lately, I’ve gotten hooked on a new medical drama, Transplant. It seems like the US prime time network market is saturated with medical dramas, but a couple of things make Transplant different. First, the main character and protagonist, Dr. Bashir “Bash” Hamed (played by Hamza Haq) is a Syrian refugee, which makes for some interesting plot lines, including his struggles as he adapts to life in a new country. Speaking of which, this leads me to another thing that makes this show unique. The country in question is not the United States. The setting for Transplant is a hospital emergency room in Toronto, Canada. While NBC has the US broadcast rights to the show, it is not produced by NBC; it’s actually produced by Canadian station CTV. That the show takes place in Canada is apparent in a few subtle ways; in the pilot episode, a police officer wore a Canadian flag pin on his uniform, the CN Tower is visible in a few establishment shots, and in one scene, a doctor taking a patient’s temperature mentioned that it was 37 degrees, rather than the 98.6 that we Yanks are accustomed to hearing.

It also occurred to me that this may be the first show on a major prime-time network where the main character is Muslim. In these times of social issues, Islamophobia, racial equality, and Black Lives Matter, that is a big deal.

Dr. Bash (as I call him) is a very likable character. As a doctor, he is obligated to ensure his patients’ welfare, and he displays compassion and humanity toward his patients. As a big brother to his little sister, Amira, he is the father figure that they are missing in their lives (their parents died in the Syrian Civil War). As a friend to his colleagues at the fictional York Memorial Hospital, he displays caring and empathy for his coworkers.

He is the doctor I would want treating me if I had to go to the hospital.

There is a stereotype about Muslims in the US that paints them as extremists and fanatics. Dr. Bash breaks that stereotype, which is why I think this show is important. I have friends who are Muslim, and I empathize with them when they are portrayed as radical terrorists. Dr. Bash shows that he is not a radical; rather, he is human, with human emotions, feelings, and faults.

Many dramas (movies, not just TV) seem to have the power to raise awareness about issues. Dances With Wolves, for example, broke the stereotype of Native Americans as being “savages.” Likewise, Emergency! (another favorite TV show of mine when I was a kid) is credited as contributing toward the establishment of EMT services across the country.

TV shows, done right, have the power to change the world. If characters, issues, and situations are portrayed properly on prime-time, this world could be a much better place.

2 thoughts on “The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 22: How TV could make this world a better place #COVID19

  1. The importance of Emergency! can’t be overstated. The show itself was in many ways based on one of the first paramedic programs in the country, right in LA, so it got a lot of things right because it was basically following history as it happened.

    The development of EMS programs in the US came out of the realization that a soldier injured in Vietnam had a higher chance of survival than a kid getting shot in the streets of a major city. This led to a paper published in 1966 often known as “The White Paper” also known as “Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society”.

    Prior to that, in many places, especially rural areas, the ambulance was often the local hearse. Seems morbid, but it was a large enough vehicle that could fit a stretcher and the drivers were often simply “the guys who could drive the fastest” to get the patient to the hospital. Other than basic Boy Scout level first aid, there was no real in-the-field medical care. They’d scoop you up, drive as fast as they could to the hospital and hope you didn’t die along the way.

    You can even see this if you watch several seasons of Emergency!. In the first season, several times the “ambulance” is simply a white painted hearse that Johnny or Roy would hop in for the ride to the hospital. As seasons progress, you see the ambulances get larger and better equipped. I even recall this in my own life growing up in a small town in CT where I recall them replacing the “station wagon” ambulance with basically a specialized Ford Econovan and then later the big boxy designs we know now.

    And yes, Emergency! popularized the concept of EMS to the point where officials in other cities started to ask “why don’t we have that?”

    And I’ve spoken to a number of people in the EMS field who started or are still EMTs or paramedics who will say that “Yes, I got into it because of the show!”

    Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe didn’t realize the impact they had for years until invited to conventions where they saw the impact their characters had. I late, dear friend of mine said they where the nicest people and while were “just acting a part” were surprised and I believe humbled to see the impact that they had.

    Liked by 1 person

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