Steal This: Call The Midwife

“Yes, we ARE judging you.”

Show: Call The Midwife

Tenure: Season 4 just ended on PBS, but you may still be able to catch this season’s episodes on the PBS website. Earlier seasons are also on Netflix.

Prime property:

  • You’re probably getting sick of hearing me say it, but yes, I’m happy to see another mature group of actors. Yes, the main characters at the show’s launch are three young midwives, but the multi-generational cast includes several older actresses. This is not a CW show, to be sure.
  • This show talks about faith in a way that is not preachy and is generally very straightforward. The nuns aren’t put forth as ruler-wielding immovable pillars of the Church, but are shown fighting very real challenges in the world — poverty, lack of medical care, racism and homophobia among them. The women of the show are shown as full, complex characters.
  • Speaking of characters, Midwife – based on a series of books – has such well drawn characters, especially Chummy (played by Miranda Hart), who is awkward and endearing.
  • Another show that knows how to do humor well, especially with Sister Monica Joan and Chummy.
  • This show celebrates women. After seeing the horrifying way that some of daytime’s female characters have been sketched out in the last decade or so (looking at you, Y&R and GH), it’s a joy to see a story that focuses on their intelligence, their strength and their leadership in a community. There are men on the show (hello, Father Tom), but they aren’t the focus, nor are any women fighting over them as a prize. So. Damn. Refreshing.
  • There have been cast changes and rotations, especially this year, after one of the leads left the show, and another actress left briefly to have a baby. But we’ve seen all of our favorites this year in a way that was handled well. We didn’t notice their absence as much, and we cheered when they returned.

Potholes to avoid:

  • For a show that prides itself on realism, and an unflinching look at the struggles of working class Britain circa the late 1950s, it does lay on the nostalgia and the treacle a little too thick every once in a while. It doesn’t happen often, but it gets a little too Touched By An Angel for my tastes every once in a blue moon.
  • The aforementioned cast changes have mostly been a good thing, but some of the new characters are too similar to existing ones (Sister Evangelina and Nurse Phyllis come to mind).
  • Almost all the show’s forays into social issues have been done well, but it gets a big, fat F for its ludicrous season ending story for Patsy. I won’t spoil the character’s arc for this season, but the story seemed like a huge cop out, and an ugly one as well.

Of all the shows I’ve been talking about, this is the least overtly serialized – it’s a hybrid of serial and patient-of-the-week medical drama, a la Grey’s Anatomy – but like Downton Abbey, its PBS neighbor, it revels in its old fashioned storytelling. And people love it – Midwife got huge ratings in the UK and has been doing well in the States, too.

The fact that an audience has shown up for both Downton and Call The Midwife convinces me that people will tune in (or go to Netflix, or Hulu, or AppleTV) for shows that take their time telling a story, and use a whole range of actors to do so. A smart soap, or a reboot of a classic, could achieve the same results.

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