Exploring Digital Purgatory: Dr. Death

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The Movie or TV Show: Dr. Street

One Sentence Premise Summary:  Dr. Christopher Duntsch is maiming and killing patients, and two doctors are doing their best Woodward and Bernstein impression to get his medical license taken away and possibly have him criminally charged.

Where You Can Stream It: Peacock (As of July 27, 2021)

Why I Streamed It: Peacock has done pretty well with their comedies so far but hasn’t had a high profile drama that’s really cracked through. The cast was the main selling point as I was a bit dubious of the subject matter given how salacious it could potentially be.

Why You Should Stream This:

It’s important to discuss the way this show manages to find the balance between surgery porn and telling a compelling story. This is a mortifying story and does cross the line at times with the way it portrays this story (both in the amount of botched surgeries and the haunting ending text warning people a situation like this could happen again). I also took issue with the confusing back and forth shifts in time. I really would like to see films and television tell their stories straight and not rely on creating tension with flashbacks.

The performances across the board carry the show. Joshua Jackson is the perfect selection for Dr. Christopher Duntsch. Jackson is very good playing a seemingly good guy with a hint of mischief. He did that well in other shows. Here, he’s a monster and you see that behavior increase over the eight episodes. What Duntsch does do his best friend is mortifying and one of the key emotional centerpieces. The motivations of Duntsch are never made clear. In truth, no one knows whether he was a sociopath, negligent, or a combination of the two. He represents the kind of white mediocrity that probably should be critiqued more in these true crime adjacent pieces.

Another positive is the chemistry between Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater. They are a wonderful comedic duo. Baldwin is not the type of human being we should be aspiring to be, but in the right role, especially as he’s become a character actor, he’s still got the chops. Slater is almost unhinged and relief from some of the seriousness taking place. They’re both really good doctors trying to do the right thing. It is through Dr. Henderson and Dr. Kirby where see how the medical system is messed up. The bureaucracy and red tape protect Duntsch more than the patients. Just trying to get a line of communication to insure he can’t work again proves to be hard let alone getting him charged.

Coming in hot is AnnaSophia Robb is ADA Michelle Shubert. She really steals the last couple episodes and gets across some of the denser legal concepts. What I like about her character is she’s not victim or an object of the titular character’s desire. We don’t necessarily learn a lot about Shubert’s personal life, but she comes across like someone trying to do the right thing. The performances and propulsive nature of the story carry some of the weaker moments.

Also, to whomever hates former Texas governor Rick Perry on the writing staff…I see you.

Best Performance:  I really enjoyed the chemistry between Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin, but Joshua Jackson continues to be one of the most solid television actors going. Maybe he hasn’t been involved in the top tier of prestige dramas, but being a part of Dawson’s Creek, Fringe, The Affair, and now Dr. Death is a good run over 25 years. Here he doesn’t get to bounce off the actors as much. He is the centerpiece of the show, and although Dr. Christopher Duntsch’s motivations are never made clear, we get a lot of pathos through Jackson’s performance. We see his hubris in the early episodes and the anger as his situation deteriorates. We are rarely asked to feel any sort of sympathy. This is a breath of fresh air compared to what we get from other anti-hero based television shows.

 AnnaSophia Bobb gets a special shout-out as a runner-up because she carries the last couple episodes in the juicy ADA role. She goes from not being a factor at all to almost the lead. It’s easy to see why actors want to play lawyers in movies because there’s a lot of juice and great dialogue potential.

Best Quote: Pour me a shot of whatever is closest to your hand. -Dr. Robert Henderson (You really need Alec Baldwin’s delivery to really appreciate this quote. It almost tops “Ethan Hunt is the manifestation of destiny” from Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation)

Final Grade: B

Coming next week, For All Mankind! (I’ve been typically writing two of these as week but as a transition back to my real job and podcasting, this will be a once a week column for the next few months).  

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