Tuesday, January 24, 2017

TV Tuesday: Mercy Street

I had two pleasant surprises today at lunchtime - first that I was alone for an hour (a rarity during my sons' winter break from college!), and second that Mercy Street has just started its second season on PBS. I am really enjoying this historical drama about a hospital in Virginia during the Civil War.

The drama centers on a makeshift hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, during the Civil War. Although Virginia is a southern state, Alexandria (very close to D.C.) has recently been conquered by the Union so that slaves have been freed, though there are still plenty of loyal Confederates in town who aren't happy with the situation. The "hospital" is a hotel in town that has been turned into a medical facility to treat wounded soldiers on both sides (though partisan medical personnel aren't always too happy about that).

Into this tumultuous environment comes Mary Phinney, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (in a very different role than as Laurel on BrainDead), a northerner who lost her husband and has come to the hospital to help care for wounded soldiers and work as a nurse. Ambitious head nurse Anne Hastings is not at all happy to have Mary on board. Dr. Jebediah Foster, played by Josh Radnor of How I Met Your Mother fame (it took me a while to recognize him here!), is glad to have the extra help, though, and he immediately sees that Mary is capable and responsible. Other doctors, nurses, and support people round out the hospital's staff.

Meanwhile, Emma Green, played by Hannah James, also begins volunteering at the hospital, just to visit and support the soldiers there - the Confederate soldiers. Emma's family is a prominent one in town - they actually own this hotel - and is appalled by what is happening to their town and their way of life. Emma hopes to provide some much-needed moral support to their wounded boys. Gary Cole plays Emma's father, who is being pressured into signing papers to officially side with the Union, a thought that disgusts him.

We see the black citizens of Alexandria, too, working at the hospital. Though officially free, they all work very hard, have difficult lives, and are still often mistreated. McKinley Belcher III plays Samuel, a well-spoken young man who works at the hospital. Aurelia, played by Shalita Grant (another surprise whom I didn't recognize at first, from NCIS: New Orleans), has been separated from her husband and small son and hopes to find them one day. One white administrator at the hospital is abusive to her, preying on her hopes to reunite her family.

And all of that is just the beginning! There is a LOT going on in this show - with the hospital staff, their patients, and the people who live in town and interact with them. I am not generally a fan of period movies or TV shows (I have no interest in Downton Abbey, for instance), but I am finding the historical setting here fascinating - perhaps because it is close to home but so very different from our world. Medical treatment in the 1860's is particularly intriguing - and often gruesome - like when the doctors are arguing over whether to use chloroform or just operate on someone while they're awake!

The cast here is amazing - all are very talented, and it's interesting to see some familiar faces in VERY different roles. I am particularly drawn to Mary and to Dr. Foster. It took me a couple of episodes to get into the show because it is somewhat complex, with a lot of different characters, but now I am hooked. In addition to the normal happenings in the hospital and the war going on outside of it, there are some big incidents that move the story forward, like a plot to assassinate Lincoln when he visits the hospital and, at the start of season 2, the possibility of a smallpox outbreak. The show combines action, suspense, drama, and romance. I am really enjoying it and can't wait to see what season 2 brings now!

Season 1 of Mercy Street is available for free on Amazon Prime (link below) or for $1.99 an episode On Demand. Season 2 - which just aired its first episode - is just the opposite, free On Demand or $1.99 per episode on Amazon. However, you can see ALL episodes of Mercy Street - seasons 1 & 2 - free on the PBS website. It is also available on DVD.

Have you tried Mercy Street yet? What do you think of it?

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