A woman builds a hand-powered machine so another woman can fly. People float away holding balloons. A missing and painfully embarrassing videotape is returned to its rightful owner by a Great Dane. A woman gives birth to a lion.
No, these aren’t the plots of short stories in a new anthology edited by Ekaterina Sedia and the Vandermeers. These are things that happen in the British television show Green Wing (2004-2006, and available on Hulu). You might think from this description that this is a strange surrealistic Twin Peaks-style television show or maybe modern adaptations of fables, but no. This is a comedy about a hospital. It’s an hour long, partially scripted, partially improvised, and though it’s certainly not the first thing anyone would go to as speculative television, it’s definitely one of the oddest and funniest shows I’ve ever seen.
And let me state for the record, ‘cause some of you are thinking it: This ain’t Scrubs. Scrubs was charming and sweet and has those strange fantasy-flashes, but Scrubs never dared to go to the outright insanity that Green Wing lives in by the beginning of the second season. Yes there are some odd, outright science-fiction style dream sequences, but mostly, the weird stuff that happens is taken at face value as being real.
Sure, the modern and the fantastic have been married many times on television: Buffy, True Blood, Warehouse 13, etc. But those shows are about how the “normal” world deals with the otherworldly, and vice-versa. Green Wing is different in that show isn’t about how people interact with the weird magic of the world they live in. They just accept it and try to do their jobs.
Can Weird Fiction have a television equivalent? Not entirely, I suppose. Green Wing is closer to pure absurdism with a hefty dash of magical realism. But one cannot deny its otherworldly allure. So many instances of the strange or supernatural on television are serious and mysterious, rather than light and amusing. Green Wing uses its magic to make us laugh, rather than scream. It’s not action-packed, and there’s no lurking danger in the romances. (Well, not the deadly kind of danger, anyway). Of all the speculative TV out there, the one I’d compare it to is Doctor Who, but that’s an awful comparison. Both shows are playful and funny, but the Doctor is trying to save the world. The doctors on Green Wing just want to get through the day and get laid.
Let’s be honest—so much of television, and television humor particularly—is a matter of taste. But you should watch at least all of Green Wing. It features many talented actors (including Tamsin Greig of Black Books and Mark Heap of Spaced) and some amazing acting and improvisation. It has more animals in it than any hospital show has a right to, and it is bizarre, outrageous, completely perverted and hilarious. I could try to give you the various plots—most of them soap-operaish with love triangles and who’s slept with whom and people who want to be doctors and feuds and secret affairs and all that—but I think it’s more about the people (insane) and the world they live in (bizarre). The melodramatic storylines just help to put the people in stranger and stranger situations until there’s fire, flying, and the face of Jesus.
Green Wing is, from those I’ve shown it to, a like it or hate it sort of show. Some find the perverted characters annoying or too pathetic, and the weirder more surreal aspects to be out of place. My father just shook his head and said it was silly. I think it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen—and bought a British DVD player so I could play the whole series (never released in the U.S.). So go, give Green Wing a try. It may not be your usual sci-fi fantasy television experience, but I think you’ll find it worthwhile, or at least something to talk about.
Lev Rosen’s first novel, All Men of Genius, is completely absurd and will be released in September.