MDA: articles

Defence team courts a win on appeal

LAST year, it hardly needs be said, was not such a good year for Australian drama. Of the four new shows to hit the air, only MDA and White Collar Blue have made it back for round two. Young Lions and Marshall Law were terrible shows that appeared to have less thought put into the writing than the ingredients list on a packet of chips, so their demise was no big surprise.

The return of MDA, on the other hand, while not exactly a surprise was not a given, as its audience sizes weren't that different from those of the shows that were given the chop. But there are shows that don't rate well because they are horrendous and shows that don't rate well because they are good but just don't connect with a larger audience, and MDA is more a case of the latter. Luckily it's on the ABC, where they tend to be a little more sympathetic about not getting terribly good ratings.

MDA suffered last year from being in a very competitive slot for drama, up against both Marshall Law and Stingers, especially when it seems that most audiences are in the mood for Rove [Live], which didn't help the ratings.

However, some of the blame for audience sizes lies in the show taking a while to find its feet. As much as everyone decries the lack of originality in television, people also like to feel they know the rules that govern what they are watching – witness the failure of perspective-changing US drama Boomtown earlier this year.

MDA's fusion of the traditional legal and medical drama formats is an interesting one. As Shane Bourne, who plays Bill "Happy" Henderson, notes, "Everyone's interested in their health and the legal area is something that's always looked intriguing because of the grey areas."

However, blending the two can make it hard to come up with a satisfying example of either and that's why MDA had its work cut out for it. That the issue of medical indemnity has become so big in the past year has helped, but that will only carry you so far.

It also didn't help that MDA seemed to be uncertain about what it was – the wacky humour in the early episodes really didn't work – and that audiences also had to learn to accept very talky shows.

Back for a second season, MDA seems much more confident about its direction. It strikes a better balance between the personal and professional lives of its characters – especially now that the relationship between Richard (Jason Donovan) and Caitlin (Alice McConnell) is no longer a nookie one. Richard poaching Caitlin has much richer possibilities.

If you watched the repeat of last year's finale last week, you'll also have noticed that the action quotient was upped in the cliff-hanger that saw Ella (Kerry Armstrong) and Tony (Aaron Pedersen) hit by a car. The addition of something more visual helps drive the series a little, while it still maintains its dialogue-heavy approach.

Of course, with such emphasis on talk, the show is really going to rest on its performances. Donovan's Richard certainly makes you forget Scott Robinson ever existed and Bourne's Happy is often such a set of contradictions that it makes him interesting to watch.

In fact, Happy has also helped Bourne show there's much more to his talent than joke-telling. Despite a career in theatre, he had struggled to get more serious TV roles prior to MDA.

"There are people who have actually rung and said, 'Look, we know you're capable of this but we think there might be a problem with people accepting you in this role and not as yourself'. And I have no answer to that," he says.

Happy Henderson is probably answer enough.

There are two new cast members this season. Angie Milliken plays the legal case manager brought in to help following Ella's accident. Felix Nobis, who plays surgeon Simon Lloyd, doesn't feature much at the beginning of this season but becomes more relevant later on.

Having worked through its teething problems, MDA is probably still not going to set the world on fire, but it is a solid watch, whatever the ratings say.

By Kerrie Murphy
July 17, 2003
The Australian