“A Young Doctor’s Notebook”

Column by Emma Friedlander

Emma Friedlander - Hannah Hwang

Netflix has become so ingrained into our culture that at this point, I assume we’re all just using the same login. It has spurred the meme “Netflix and chill,” challenged yoga as the foremost form of relaxation and, of course, become synonymous with procrastination.
As college students, we’re all too familiar with procrastination. Muttering that you watched Netflix instead of studying for O-Chem only elicits sympathetic nods. Since procrastination via our Netflix accounts is unavoidable, we may as well attempt to waste that time in the most informed manner possible. But with so much garbage programming clogging our queues, it’s hard to know what to watch next.
For your sake, I’ve taken it upon myself to watch a different Netflix movie or TV episode biweekly, review that movie or TV episode and come to a decision on whether or not it’s an adequate waste of your time. Shirking my greater responsibilities to watch TV in bed? I really am a god amongst men.
This week, I’m reviewing “A Young Doctor’s Notebook” – a revolutionary Russian romp starring Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe. The mini-series originally aired on Britain’s Sky Arts and is now playing on a dim, food-stained MacBook near you. I recently kicked back with my own Netflix account and viewed both seasons of the series.
Ever since Daniel Radcliffe bared his stallion in Equus, the world has been agog at his success in defying typecast. “Harry Potter has been in so many different productions!” “Harry Potter was so versatile in ‘The Woman in Black’.” “Do you think Harry Potter will be in the next Harry Potter movie?” It’s almost as if Dan’s cult beginnings have been forgotten.
In “A Young Doctor’s Notebook,” Radcliffe splinters his wand even further as he plays the “Young Doctor,” a fresh-faced but vile young medic. He is accompanied by Jon Hamm, or the “Old Doctor,” who plays the same character, only 16 years older. The two interact with one another by means of the Old Doctor reading his former diaries.
My friend has a theory that ever since Mad Men ended, Hamm’s television roles have solely served to make fun of the fact that he’s Jon Hamm. Whether he’s playing a ponytailed cult leader in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a hired assassin in Wet Hot American Summer or a fumbling, morphine-addicted doctor who soils himself a lot in “A Young Doctor’s Notebook,” most of these roles derive their comedy from the fact that they’re played by the typically suave and serious Hamm.
Although Hamm may have a more illustrious status in show biz, Radcliffe really does steal the spotlight in “A Young Doctor’s Notebook”. He drives the action and delivers an awkward, despicable and entirely believable performance. Hamm’s character offers amusing and even insightful background commentary but the novelty of his performance stems from the novelty of his being Jon Hamm rather than the performance itself.
The story takes place in 1917 in a desolate rural village. It relates the story of the Young Doctor assuming a position in the village’s little hospital and his subsequent spiral into isolation, hostility and drug addiction, as the Older Doctor stands solemnly by.
Despite this most Russian of premises, the mood of the series is overwhelmingly British. Besides the obvious fact that all of the actors are British (with the exception of Hamm, who speaks in a pseudo-European brogue), the humor is very Anglo as well. The jokes are skin-crackingly dry. A mustached bloke guffaws around about oddly-shaped vaginas. If it wasn’t for the pseudo-Cyrillic type and occasional reference to the Red and White Armies, you might think that Hamm and Radcliffe stumbled onto the set of Downton Abbey albeit with fewer fancy hats and a lot more blood and intestines which really do feature prominently.
Although the series does follow the Doctor’s decline into desolation and addiction, it isn’t necessarily plot-driven. Rather, it’s a romp of pitch black humor, gory visuals, jokes about Russian culture and the audience ogling at Radcliffe and Hamm. But don’t get me wrong, I really did enjoy this series. The comedy is clever and biting. It managed to make me burst out laughing during a scene where someone’s leg is sawed off (and not in bad taste either!). The creators are truly attempting to emulate Bulgakov’s works in a relatable way, and do their best in light of literary and cultural translation and the dark subject matter.
My consensus: Go for it. With all eight episodes adding up to two and a half hours of viewing pleasure, your feelings of guilt will be minimal. Moreover, since the series is inspired by early 20th century literature, it’s easily justified as intellectual stimulus.

Photo by Hannah Hwang.