Sarah Millican: I love medical dramas – as long as they are American

British shows are too close to home. Switching those programmes on for me is like that first breath of hospital smell.

Once I pitched a radio series about a mortuary but was told it was a no because of Six Feet Under. I cam back with, “That’s like saying you can’t make ER because of Dr Kildare.” I didn’t get the series but felt a lot better for making the point. Like the magazines in a doctor’s waiting room, medical drama has always been there.


I’ve always preferred the shows from abroad. I dabbled in The Flying Doctors largely because it was an extension of Neighbours and Home and Away. You could see where Erinsborough’s sacked and dead continued to work.

The big one for me was always ER. Loved it. Recorded it onto VHS tapes and rewatched till it went fuzzy. Carol and Doug, lovely Dr Green, Doug again. And of course, Doug.

Others I’ve enjoyed include M*A*S*H (because it was very funny), Doogie Howser, MD (because I was a similar age so it was aspirational and he was a hot nerd), Northern Exposure (because it was funny and sweet and had a hot nerd), Diagnosis: Murder (the winning combination of medical, crime and Dick Van Dyke), Dr Quinn: Medicine Woman (because someone else was watching it and I couldn’t be bothered to move) and Scrubs (still watch it now, it’s great and daft).

I take more convincing to watch British medical shows. I loved Green Wing because it was barking mad and Getting On is just brilliant television. But they’re both comedies. It would appear that I avoid British medical dramas. Casualty, for example. And Holby City. Sure, I know that the former starts with someone walking under a ladder carrying a bucket of hot tar. And a baby. While wearing stilettos. That are broken. With a nana on their bac Cue accident. But that’s always been where I’ve had to turn over. And yes, I know that Holby City is just upstairs from Casualty and is more about the personal relationships. I’ve fallen across both shows but picked myself up and walked away without even a sprain. 

I’ve realised it’s because they’re too close to home. Like all of us, I’ve had friends and family members in hospital and I can’t watch anything that reminds me of those times. Switching those programmes on for me is like that first breath of hospital smell.

So when I decided to try medical drama again, I looked Stateside. I’m pretty sure this column isn’t supposed to make me need a cuddle.

House is big in my parents’ house. They love it. So I gave it a go. Once I’d tuned my ear into Hugh Laurie’s fancy American accent, I was hooked. One central medical storyline, one emotional staff member subplot. Six doctors working out what’s wrong with one patient. No wards, only a very spacious private room. (I love that patients in our hospitals always seem to think the curtain pulled around them is soundproofed, “Her next door…” in a normal voice.)

I also didn’t see any posters telling people to wash their hands and no bloody lovely nurses dishing out love and care like they were dealing with their own relatives. Just lots of long medical terms being bandied about. I put the subtitles on but was none the wiser. It turns out I’m just not a doctor. House is a drama set in a hospital. And I liked it. Mostly because I couldn’t smell hospitals when I watched it.