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Fox’s The Resident Needs to Stop Being Topical

Fox’s The Resident has characters we care for, but the handling of certain topics as of late makes it difficult to keep tuning in.

Starting in 2018 and currently on its fifth season, Fox’s medical drama The Resident follows the doctors of Chastain Park Memorial Hospital as they navigate the perils of medical bureaucracy while still saving lives. Compelling characters make the writing effective, as it impels viewers to see both sides of the issues inherent– at least until recently.

While the events of 2020 impacted everyone, for serial television the effect was a little different.  Production got delayed, new safety measures were implemented, and those shows set in the modern era had to decide how to acknowledge the COVID pandemic. CBS’s Bull, for one, chose to power through it, showing how such issues would affect a courtroom. Fox’s The Resident, on the other hand, decided to go with time skips to get the storyline out from under a pandemic’s shadow. And yet, despite being set a nebulous amount of time in the future, today’s politics still hamper the show.

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two doctors discussing a patient

Those who have taken Human Relations in school understand the one big rule presented: never discuss religion or politics. That is not to say such discussions have no place in entertainment media, but it needs to be done really, really well in order to not chase the audience off. NBC’s procedural drama Law & Order has managed such tricky topics for years, for example, primarily through good writing and fantastic delivery. In instances where the split between right and wrong isn’t so clear cut, Law & Order and its spinoffs manage to deliver both sides and give voice to diverse opinions. In many cases, viewers are left with the feeling that there might not be a right answer, but it’s delivered in such a way that hot topics become discussion points rather than points of contention.

Not so with Season 5 of The Resident. Despite doing well with the balancing act in previous seasons, this season hasn’t done a good job portraying both sides. Religious viewers could rightfully take issue with the callous way belief systems are viewed, while those viewers tired of current events will not appreciate how mentions of COVID and word-for-word quotes from the news are tossed in, particularly as they don’t feel like integral beats to the story. It’s a far cry from the writing of earlier seasons, and drags down the more thought-provoking moments the show can have.

It’s questionable why current events are still talking points in the show, considering the two time skips — the first to get to a time where COVID is no longer a problem, and the second to get main character Dr. Conrad Hawkins to a point where he could believably return to Chastain. At minimum, the show is six years ahead of current events — and yet it feels like the writers are not always focused on delivering quality entertainment as much as sending a message.

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two doctors enjoying some down time

That is not to say that such topical discussions cannot be had — Law & Order frequently runs on the “ripped from the headlines” trope. But in the case of Law & Order, there’s a filter between what’s on the news and what ends up on the show. The stories are topical, but instead of direct citations they are a fictionalized version, with similar events happening to fictional people. It removes the emotional aspect people have already assigned to the news feed and instead delivers it in a fresh way so they can examine both sides objectively. People don’t get incensed at these episodes, because it’s a fresh take and there’s at least one character taking a point of view they can agree with.

And it’s this separation that The Resident currently lacks. The unadulterated topics they keep bringing up saturate the news, and people are tired of it. The reason many people tune in to entertainment media is to escape the real world for an hour or so, to go to a place that is like ours but better. By not approaching the topics objectively like they have in the past, the show runs the risk of alienating viewers.

As Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson said, politics in entertainment media “does not have to have labels written across everything, or make its point with a sledgehammer.” A thoughtful delivery can spark more discussion than simply parroting current events — the latter immediately dates the media and prompts viewers to change the channel, while the former sticks long after the show is done. Media can make people think, but in order to do that, it needs to feel less like a lecture and more like a conversation.

The Resident airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on FOX.

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