‘Emergency: NYC’ Review: Netflix Hospital Show Sequel to Lenox Hill
Eight more episodes spent at Lenox Hill and other NY-area hospitals reinforce how valuable this inside perspective can be, this time with a broader focus.
On June 24, 2020, Netflix released a special episode of “Lenox Hill”. Since the pandemic is still relatively in its infancy, a doctor-focused doc series presented a 32-minute time capsule of the arrival of Covid in New York. It’s far from the only show to document those scary few weeks in its own way, but nearly three years later, “Lenox Hill” still feels like a definitive portrait of that moment in time.
“Lenox Hill” was both a perfect and strange source for something so specific. On the one hand, the show offered an intimate glimpse into life at Lenox Hill Hospital. Through an observational lens, directors/creators Ruthie Shatz and Adi Barash were able to present the highest-stakes environment as the day-to-day work of operating rooms and emergency triage centers. Still, one of the interesting things about the original season is that it hasn’t been anchored since time immemorial. The series didn’t focus on cutting-edge gadgets or setting the audience in a particular month or year. There was a feeling that hospital life was like this, a constant, never-ending effort to make people as healthy as possible.
Fast forward to 2023, and Shatz and Barash are back with “Emergency: NYC,” another eight-episode Netflix season similar in form to its predecessor but even more expansive in scope. The cameramen returned to Lenox Hill, following some of the surgeons and nurses who had become the default protagonists of the first broadcast. But “Emergency: NYC” also lives up to its title, casting a wider net and visiting other hospitals around the five boroughs as they respond to the city’s calls.
This means that the focus is not just on people once they arrive for treatment. Much of this new series also features the people responsible for getting patients where they need to be. “Emergency: NYC” has both ambulances and helicopters on the move as the crew works out the necessary logistics to keep people alive and get to their destination as quickly as possible. The show does not treat them as anonymous, faceless workers. They have families, worries, anxieties, banter, and everything else that fills the downtime between shifts.
While a good portion of “Emergency: NYC” is devoted to portraying the people as accomplished professionals, it’s less interested in mythologizing. It’s always upsetting to see someone handle a life-saving procedure with the same energy and casualness as a data entry task. That’s not to say that these works and the show don’t have room to adapt to the unexpected or the sensational, but there is a strong thread of the ordinary that runs through much of the show. Bedside manners remain a strong component of the series, and most of the people in the spotlight here handle interpersonal interactions with a kind of calmness that can reassure worried loved ones.
Even in that confidence and professionalism lies a drama in “Emergency: NYC” that Shatz and Barash rarely need to artificially add. There’s the odd ripple in the C-section climax, but this is a show that actively resists emotional manipulation even when it’s most tempting. It’s enough to chase the paramedic as he runs through the corridors of a children’s hospital. It is enough to know the consequences of damaging valuable brain tissue or removing a tumor completely. “Emergency: NYC” faithfully portrays the reality of these jobs, a tribute to the show and the people it profiles.
As engrossing as “Emergency: NYC” can be at times, presenting a cross-section of patients facing various needs and severities, the TV shows don’t magically emerge from the footage, no matter how compelling it is. There’s an intent here that takes “Emergency: NYC” beyond just a splicing of surveillance footage. Shatz and Barash find small symmetries in different operations or circumstances, showing how success in this field is a moving target. Fully trained medical professionals are still at the mercy of fluctuating organs that behave differently depending on the patient.
And there’s still the specter of Covid, which isn’t a constant theme in “Emergency: NYC,” but its effects are still felt. Some patients feel alienated from society, and some delayed procedures have had a noticeable impact on the people who need them. A return to normality is not exactly possible in an environment built in part to care for the victims of unpredictable accidents.
It’s just one way that “Emergency: NYC” shows how integral these hospitals are to the fabric of New York. Whatever lies ahead of the city is at the doorstep of these facilities. Sometimes teenagers come in as victims of gunshot wounds. Fatal car accidents are also common during the season. “Emergency: NYC” makes sure the doctors and nurses articulate how common these events are. If a public health epidemic is not caused by an airborne disease, then the people who face the consequences every day should speak out.
The show doesn’t deal with it often, but “Emergency: NYC” is no stranger to the physical and mental toll of working in the medical field. This isn’t simply an eight-episode tribute to success. Complications arise. Staff members face their own hospitalization. Families are grieving. (A gut-wrenching moment from the second half of the season: after a young patient dies on the way to the hospital, the first responder’s grim response to someone trying to call him a superhero.)
No one says it outright in “Emergency: NYC,” but there’s also the sense that this is a profession that’s constantly trying to catch up. There is always another person to be examined or treated. There is always the feeling that if you get to someone a few seconds sooner, you have a better chance of survival. And as certain political decisions exacerbate the cause of these accidents, the people in front of the camera in this series must understand the damage. There are no unfit for this, as they are in a place that reminds them every day that there are successes among some overwhelmingly negative odds. These triumphs and reality coexist in these places, and to the show’s credit, they do in “Emergency: NYC.”
“Emergency: NYC” is now available on Netflix.
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