I love a long-lost family member story. I love children who only find out that they were inadvertently swapped at birth when a strange (preferably mad) woman appears claiming to be their mother. I love long-lost siblings, and I love them even more when they fall in love with each other before they find out. So I am having a ball with All Saints (9ish Tuesdays on Seven) at the moment, as Dr Vlasek (John Waters) deals with finally coming clean to the son he nicked off on 24 years ago. And if that wasn’t tough enough for him, just as he was trying to back away, Tuesday’s ep introduced the frankly fabulous complication of the son’s massive organ failure. The only person with chance of being a suitable donor? Do I even need to tell you?

A glorious story, but All Saints never overplays its drama. In fact, it’s strangely calming. I know it’s set in an emergency department, but compared to the heightened freneticism and almost gratuitous bloodlust of US medical counterparts like ER and Grey’s Anatomy, the professionalism at All Saints is positively soothing, and reassuringly realistic.

Not that there’s anything wrong with unrealistic. ER and Grey’s will always choose the emotionally dramatic over the professionally authentic, and that tends to work out fine for them. But All Saints has chosen a different path, and its meticulous attention to medical detail and procedure allows the stories to play out gently rather than be pushed through frantically.

Which brings me back to Dr Vlasek and his struggles with late-onset fatherhood. It feels at times that, in its efforts to keep things low-key, All Saints glosses over important steps in the characters’ emotional journeys. When Vlasek, riddled by self-doubt, put his not inconsiderable pride aside and allowed someone else to perform his son’s surgery, it should have been a huge moment. But we didn’t see it. Sure, we heard about it afterwards, but for us to not be in the operating theatre as Vlasek, hands shaking, laid down his scalpel, well, frankly it felt like a bit of a cheat.

Of course the story still works, but the ride is just that little bit less exciting. Grey’s Anatomy would never miss an opportunity to milk every last emotional drop from such a significant turning point. All Saints has a wonderful understated feel to it, but if it just took a little more time with some of its big moments, it could hit a lot harder.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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