Harry Potter and Don Draper walk into a Russian hospital. That’s not the setup to a lame joke; it’s the premise for the highly entertaining British television series “A Young Doctor’s Notebook and Other Stories,” now in its second season.
Based on author Mikhail Bulgakov’s autobiographical short stories, the show details a fresh-faced, unnamed doctor and his gruesome yet hysterical hospital adventures in rural 1917 Russia. Simultaneously, his older self reflects on his past triumphs and letdowns.
The young doctor’s struggle adjusting to the new lifestyle, coupled with his developing morphine dependency, is riveting to not only the viewer but also the older doctor, who is able to physically interact and converse with his younger self.
Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm play the Young and Older Doctor, respectively, and prove their comedic chops through the hysterical dialogue.
While season one showcased his distaste for his past substance abuse, season two began with a recovered Older Doctor, who can actively meddle in his younger life. His younger self, currently battling the addiction, is entranced by engaged aristocrat Natasha. She arrives with the White Guards in the midst of the Russian Civil War.
Concealing the missing morphine from the Zemstvo, the local government, is a minor task compared to winning Natasha’s affections.
Meanwhile, the Older Doctor is appalled by the Young Doctor’s rudeness to the hospital nurse Pelageya, who is gravely ill. Terminating their romantic relationship bluntly, the Young Doctor ignores Pelageya’s plight—until it seems too late.
Hamm, a producer for the series, easily slips into this period piece. He balances the drama of recovering addiction with the comedic timing we’ve come to associate with his SNL appearances. It’s cynical yet subtle, and it works. He is a gifted actor who can blend sympathy and disgust for any character he plays.
Radcliffe is the true star. This role is so far removed from his Harry Potter past: twisted, bitter, yet joyfully funny. His delivery is beautiful, and he’s not afraid to make a fool of himself—which he does, as he drunkenly wrestles Hamm for a gun, shoots himself in the foot by mistake, and exclaims “I’m going to have to amputate my own foot!”
This show is not for the faint of heart: it graphically depicts violent illnesses and medical surgeries. Nor is it an obvious choice for two big-name actors. But it’s a brave one that is successful. It’s darkly funny, bracingly witty and incredibly addicting.
The season finale of “A Young Doctor’s Notebook” airs Sept. 9 on Ovation. Season one is currently available on Netflix.