I love discovering films, music, books. I love being in at the start, as I was with The Road, or Scrubs, or In Rainbows. But perhaps even more, I love coming to things late. I love the expectation driven by praise from friends or critics I respect, and the thrill when I realise it turns out to be even better than I might have hoped.
As I rarely go to the cinema any more, this most often occurs with films I catch up with on DVD. The Wire is another example, which seemed to command my viewing for almost half of 2009. More recently, I caught up with a Channel 4 comedy from a few years ago.
Green Wing came recommended by friends, and I’ve subsequently discovered a whole ream of fans of the show. I didn’t know much about it, except it’s set in a hospital and has a strong cast of British comedy actors.
I’m reluctant to go into too much detail, as my experience of discovering Green Wing was a stream of delight and surprises. Broadly, it’s a sitcom unlike most sitcoms. It’s set in a hospital, yet goes out of its way to avoid pretty much all things clinical; patients are reduced to x-rays or anonymous bodies under operating theatre drapes. Instead, it focuses on the human interactions and behavioural oddities amongst the staff.
The ensemble cast are terrific. Every character has grotesque elements of caricature, yet they’re almost all oddly charming in their own way; many are pretty much sociopathic. Almost all of the relationships are spilling over with sexual frustration or tension. The language is fairly explicit, nearly always in an hilarious way. Most of the characters behave like children at least some of the time, throwing tantrums, bickering and joking at each other’s expense with the humour and cruelty of the playground.
Each episode is very loosely structured, with occasional set-piece scenes, most notably when characters visit the psychotic Staff Liaison Officer Sue White – played brilliantly by Michelle Gomez. Scenes are often linked with brief moments of accelerated or slow-motion film, highlighting the body language between people. This quirky style is just another element that makes Green Wing stand out from the crowd.
There are all sorts of clips available, but in general they don’t do it justice. They don’t enable you to experience the full joy of a full 50 minute episode. However, this one is an out-take from the DVD of Series 1; an extended version of a scene that does make the final cut. It illustrates several of the programme’s key traits; long scenes between two characters allowing the actors to improvise, general hilarity and large amounts of ‘corpsing’ by the cast. Just watch Tamsin Greig trying to hold it together while Stephen Mangan truly goes for it!
Green Wing reminds me at times of The Office, at other times of Spaced. I know that it won’t be to everyone’s taste. It’s shamelessly rude (sometimes excruciatingly so) and massively silly; but I’ve rarely laughed so often during a single programme, or so consistently through a whole series of programmes.