NBC Didn’t Reject This Transplant After All
A Canadian Import Makes A Welcome Return to American Television
When Covid inevitably caused disruptions to American TV shooting schedules in the summer of 2020, networks and cable television desperately searched for stop-gap series from abroad. One of NBC’s better gambles was the airing of the Canadian series Transplant — a medical drama that for much of its run basically ignored the existence of the worldwide pandemic.
Once you set aside the fact that obstacle, Transplant was a fairly good medical procedural. The series centered on Syrian trauma surgeon Bashir Hamed (Hamza Haq) who began his residency at York Memorial after saving the life of the chief of staff after a stroke. (He had to drill a hole in his head to relieve the pressure.) Dr. Bishop (John Hannah) had already rejected him in a previous interview, but reconsidered which didn’t make the board happy.
The first season was an intriguing, if not particularly remarkable, medical drama which admittedly had more than a few callbacks to ER. There was Dr. Curtis, the surgical resident who was prickly and ambitious — a Peter Benton archetype who happens to be an African-American woman. There’s Dr. Hunter, married with children, whose wife lives in Sudbury and is trying to balance his residency in a long-distance marriage — that was Dr. Greene’s storyline throughout the first season and a half of and that didn’t end well for the family. There’s Dr. Leblanc, the doctor who cares so much about her patients that she stays too long at the hospital and can’t seem to balance her life — sort of a combination of Carter and Hathaway. The fundamental difference between is Bashir, who has been readjusting to medicine and trying to live a life without his family (save for his much younger sister). The season came to an end last year when Bishop suffered another stroke and collapsed on the steps of the hospital. Meanwhile Bash, who had been flirting with LeBlanc for most of the season finally kissed her — only to find that his former fiancé who he’d spent the last five years assuming had died in Syria is alive and in Canada.
For all its flaws, Transplant was the first medical procedural I’d seen in nearly a decade that was actually done well with the right balance between medicine and character development. After American television fundamentally began to return to normal in the spring of 2021, I honestly wondered if NBC would show Transplant again, if it had even been renewed for a second season. I was delighted to learn that it had been and that NBC was airing it on Sunday nights at 10pm.
Season 2 begins minutes after Season 1 ended with Bashir and Leblanc being called into a mass casualty after a bus crash at an arts camp. Bashir is called on the carpet after he has to perform an emergency tracheotomy on a girl by the acting chief of staff, Dr. Nolan. The newest addition to Transplant is by far the weakest element. Nolan studied at the hospital under Bishop, worked at Doctors without Borders and has only recently returned stateside. Unfortunately, this character’s only job seems to be to tell everybody he meets — particularly Bashir and Leblanc — that everything they are doing is wrong, whether they try to hard or care too much. Sadly, this is an ER construct as well — Nolan seems to be channeling a combination of Kerri Weaver and Rocket Romano, two of the most unpleasant characters in that series (and in my opinion, television) history. Bashir actually goes to Bishop who is still going through recovery and tells him that Nolan is acting ‘like the job is already his’. I hope for the sake of the series this isn’t deliberate.
Far more interesting are the conflict Bashir is going through outside the hospital. He is thrown into turmoil by the fact that the woman he loved let him think she was dead for five years even after knowing where he was, and though he can’t fault the reasoning (her family was under the threat of death from the Syrian government) it doesn’t assuage his rage. More troubling, her arrival has led him to suffer flashbacks from a time when he was kept prisoner himself. We know from past experience Bashir has suffered from PTSD, but like Bishop when it came to taking it easy after his first stroke, he ignored the symptoms until it was nearly too late. How long until this begins to affect him at the hospital? And what will this to his relationship with Leblanc, already troubled?
I will not pretend to say that Transplant is a perfect drama or much better than the conventional. Nor do I expect to keep watching it regular passed a certain point in April when more imaginative series return. (Season 3 of Barry is little more than a month away as it the brilliant Sam Esmail’s next venture, Starz’s Gaslit, which will reunite him with Homecoming star Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell at the height of Watergate.) But this series does reminds, after more than a decade of American medical dramas that our either part of franchise (Dick Wolf’s Chicago Med) or with too glaring a hook (ABC’s The Good Doctor) what a pure medical drama can look like when it’s done well. I’m glad it’s back for a second season and I’m glad NBC decided to let viewers keep following it. I hope that both continue.
My score: 3.5 stars.