The 50 best TV shows of 2022: No 10 – This Is Going to Hurt

Former doctor Adam Kay’s tale of an arrogant gynaecologist struggling in an NHS hospital was shocking, hilarious – and revealed a horrifying truth

By February 2022, there was very little new about This Is Going to Hurt. Since its 2017 release, Adam Kay’s comically frank memoir about life as a junior doctor had topped bestseller lists, bagged awards and even been a West End live show. It had even undergone a Covid-inspired second wave that made it the tome to artfully position on bookshelves in video call backgrounds. An undiscovered gem it was not.

Yet such was the power of BBC One’s bleakly funny seven-part adaptation – created and written by Kay himself – that it gripped the imagination like a story that had never been told before. From its first graphic, wisecrack-stuffed episode, the tale of Kay (played by Ben Whishaw) and his struggle to cope with the monstrous workload and understaffing on the “brats and twats” (AKA obstetrics and gynaecology) wards was the TV hot topic. The show’s dedication to realism meant gore-splattered plotlines ranging from emergency caesareans on dead patients to heartbreaking shots of blood pooling under the Crocs of medics as they battle to stop a new mother bleeding out. Some enraged viewers accused the show of depicting childbirth as unfailingly traumatic, and mothers as powerless slabs of meat. Until, that is, the industry spoke up about its unerringly accurate depiction – with the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists releasing a statement to praise how the drama “exposes the harsh realities that healthcare professionals can face”.

Across a brisk, frequently tense – often shocking – series, we saw under-resourced doctors marching patients in labour to closed-up parts of a hospital to requisition scanning equipment. Even a ministerial visit couldn’t stop the labour ward from being so riddled by remedial works it looked “like downtown Basra”. Again and again we watched desperate, frazzled doctors – sleeping in cars because there was no time to make it home between shifts – battling the strictures of a terrifyingly underfunded NHS as they tried, and not infrequently failed, to do the best for their patients.

Somehow, This Is Going to Hurt was also funny. This was a show that trod where far too few dramas dare – into the hinterland of the basic human need to use humour as a survival tool in traumatic situations. “I did explain that the doctor would be holding the cord inside” soothes a nurse trying to placate a distressed-looking dad whose partner has Kay’s arm inserted into her. “Probably didn’t tell her I’d be wearing her like Kermit the Frog,” quips Kay in one of the trademark fourth-wall-busting to-camera barbs. At one point, a consultant prank calls a junior member of staff on the hospital landline to say “Doctor help me! My vagina’s totally fallen out!” At another, a snarky patient growls “I pay your wages, you know?” only for put-upon junior doctor Shruti to snap back: “Can I have a raise then?” Patients died, we fretted over the life-threatening degradation of national infrastructure, and yet amid it all there were belly laughs aplenty. The fact that none of it felt out-of-keeping with the subject matter is testament to the series’s nuance, sensitivity and idiosyncratic tone.

As we saw these NHS workers put their own wellbeing and personal lives at risk for the sake of patients it became clear that these characters were not, in fact, superheroes. Rather, This Is Going to Hurt opted for something far more relatable: flawed human beings. Whishaw’s acidic portrayal of Kay as a quip merchant so cocksure he riles up everyone around him made him as hard to love as he was impossible not to root for. For every ounce of satisfaction at seeing Shruti’s confidence and authority in the workplace grow, there was a counterweight of sadness, as we saw her mounting stress spill over into one of the most devastating moments of television of the whole year.

Ultimately, the really biting thing about This Is Going to Hurt is that it was a period drama. From pastel-toned, retro sets to characters owning ancient phones, there was an implied menace to all of it. This was the NHS struggling in 2006 – before Brexit, before Covid, before the austerity-wild Tories even got their hands on it. And for every crisis we see caused by a dispiriting lack of funding or resource, a truth lurks in the background: if this were set today, everything would be so much worse.


Alexi Duggins

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The 50 best TV shows of 2022: No 3 – Severance
With black goo and baby goats, this workplace thriller was tantalisingly weird – and proved that Ben Stiller is one of the most interesting directors working in TV right now

Gwilym Mumford

19, Dec, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
The 50 best TV shows of 2022: No 1 – The Bear
This clever, dense and hugely stressful chef drama was a perfectly prepped televisual feast. Packed full of genius, it was that rarest of things: a TV show that lived up to the hype

Lucy Mangan

21, Dec, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
The 50 best TV shows of 2022: No 5 – The Responder
Martin Freeman was superb as a bent Merseyside copper in this propulsive, state-of-the-nation drama. Gritty, fascinating, challenging, it was a masterwork of ethical conundrums

Kate Abbott

15, Dec, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
The 50 best TV shows of 2022
A great year for bingeable boxsets, streaming successes and your set-top box – see what you missed as the top telly shows of the year are revealed

21, Dec, 2022 @12:59 PM

Article image
The 50 best TV shows of 2022: No 4 – Hacks
Magnificently brutal and emotionally whip-smart, this superb comedy never once lost sight of the humour at the heart of the gloriously damaged odd couple drama

Phil Harrison

16, Dec, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
The 50 best TV shows of 2022: No 8 – Industry
The stock of the juicy, sexy BBC drama about bankers rose massively this year. Backs were stabbed, fortunes were gambled, souls were sold … and we were hooked

Sammy Gecsoyler

12, Dec, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
The 50 best TV shows of 2022: No 7 – Better Call Saul
The high-energy exploits of a sleazy lawyer became an impossibly beautiful love story. The Breaking Bad spin-off ended on a magnificent, multilayered highThe 50 best TV shows of 2022More of the best culture of 2022

Stuart Heritage

13, Dec, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
The 50 best TV shows of 2022: No 6 – Big Boys
Jack Rooke’s truly special comedy about male friendships and mental health had it all – laughs, tears, 00s cultural references and top-tier sex jokes

Hollie Richardson

14, Dec, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
The top 50 TV shows of 2022: No 9 – Derry Girls
Tonally perfect, exquisitely funny and hugely moving, the final series of Lisa McGee’s comedy about growing up in 90s Northern Ireland was a masterpiece

Chitra Ramaswamy

09, Dec, 2022 @1:00 PM

Article image
This Is Going to Hurt review – Ben Whishaw stars in a realism-packed adaptation
The BBC’s take on NHS doctor Adam Kay’s memoir pulls no punches in portraying the difficulties of life as a junior medic – be it fatigue, bullying or falling asleep at the wheel

Lucy Mangan

08, Feb, 2022 @9:50 PM