McCallum (review)

Yet Another Rule-Breaking Doctor

Not that I’m suggesting that our forced withdrawal from House while the World Series hogs up Fox might be survivable, but I’m finding some unexpected succor in McCallum, the 1995 British series that landed on DVD this past summer and only just recently — and fortuitously — worked its way to the top of my to-watch pile. There aren’t huge similarities between the two series: it’s mostly tone and the rough-edged, unHollywood appeal of their “heroes.” Part of what drew me to House in the first place was that it felt like British TV in that it was willing to indulge its thoroughly unpleasant protagonist to the point where you fell in love with him, warts and all. Ian McCallum is not as antisocial as Gregory House, but star John Hannah — whom you’ve seen in the Mummy films as Rachel Weisz’s goofy brother — does bear a certain physical resemblance to Hugh Laurie, and plus Hannah gets to retain that Scottish accent of his that’s so delicious you could eat it with a spoon. (For those of you who don’t know that Hugh Laurie is actually British, Hugh Laurie is actually British, and not from New Jersey at all.)
McCallum’s patients are, unlike House’s, dead. He’s a forensics pathologist in a hospital in London’s East End, and it’s a grim and dark East End, like you’d expect Ian and his team to run into Jack the Ripper in a cobblestoned alleyway somewhere. Certainly they run into plenty of dead bodies that have expired in weird and mysterious ways. There’s posionings and suicides and your everyday kind of death hidden under piles of misleading evidence, but there’s also dead prostitutes killed by lethal superbugs, corpses with their organs stolen, and killers who target McCallum himself. Cuz he’s a man — like House — who breaks the rules in order to get a job done, which doesn’t always make him the most popular guy on the witness stand. Plus he’s prone to things like sleeping with hot lady cops just before they get murdered and saying bitterly funny things like “Please, I’m Scottish — we don’t even make eye contact until after we’ve had sex” and ensuring that you understand that this is barely a joke. McCallum and House would hate each other, naturally, if they actually had to work in the same hospital — neither could stand being shown up as less misanthropic than the other — but it sure is fun to imagine them butting heads.

All the Ian McCallum you’ll ever get is on this five-disc set: nine minimovies of about 90 minutes apiece. That’s another thing British TV does well: it doesn’t force characters and situations to attempt to cling to relevance for eight seasons if really all they’ve got in them is nine 90-minute episodes. So it doesn’t take forever to get through McCallum, but that’s okay: House’ll be back next week.

But I dunno what I’m gonna do when Lost disappears for 13 weeks. Gilligan’s Island ain’t gonna cut it…

[buy at Amazon]

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