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The #1 Reason We Watch Call the Midwife

Why a show about nurses and nuns is the hottest thing on TV.

by
Susan L.M. Goldberg

Bio

May 22, 2014 - 8:00 am

This past Sunday, American audiences finally had their chance to wave goodbye to Nurse Jenny Lee, the lead character in the famed Masterpiece series Call the Midwife. However sad it may be, the departure of the show’s Hollywood-bound lead actress Jessica Raine was, ironically, in no way a traumatic one.

Most American shows die when their lead actor disappears. Dan Stevens’ untimely departure from Downton Abbey still enrages fans over a year later. Yet, while Nurse Jenny Lee will be a much missed character, fans are far from outraged at her departure. Perhaps this is because Call the Midwife was never just about Jennifer (Lee) Worth, but about the many lives she encountered and a profession that is finally being given the credit it so sorely deserves. But there is more to the massive success of what began as a 6-episode BBC show about nursing in mid-century London’s bombed-out East End than giving credit where credit is due.

In an era of roughshod marketing tactics and semiotic overload, Call the Midwife, with its pure, heartfelt approach to the vicissitudes of life, is therapeutic television. We are a desensitized audience: No one cries when a pregnant mother is stabbed to death on Game of Thrones. Yet, everyone, including the burly guys on set, shed a tear at every birth on Call the Midwife. We are treated to an East End rife with chamber pots, not sexy chamber maids, and yet audiences are drawn to the show in droves. We love the midwives, even when they are dressed in habits and wimples; they are the ideal face of medicine, mother, and God in an era when we’ve been taught to doubt all three. Like a nurse checking our pulse, Call the Midwife reminds us that we are human after all, and perhaps not as sick as we’ve been led to believe.

And yet, while TV execs struggle with sex and violence in the name of Tweet power, they remain blind to Call the Midwife’s axiom for success: There is powerful endurance in simple truth. Call the Midwife will survive without the character of Jenny Lee because the show has embraced Jennifer Worth’s own mystical sense of timelessness. It is the stuff that fueled her memoirs of both London’s East End and her time as a nurse caring for the dying. Brilliantly captured in the season finale, this sense of the eternal in both life and death is what makes Call the Midwife a healing balm of a show and transcendental television in its finest form. Forget bloody battles and wild, nameless sex. Call the Midwife empowers its audience with the strength to face, not escape, life’s pressures, and the faith to believe that while “weeping may happen for a night, joy breaks forth in the morning.”

Now and then in life, love catches you unawares, illuminating the dark corners of your mind, and filling them with radiance. Once in a while you are faced with a beauty and a joy that takes your soul, all unprepared, by assault.

Jennifer Worth

Susan L.M. Goldberg is a writer with a Master's in Radio, Television & Film and a PhD in Life who would be happy roaming the fields of Prince Edward Island with Anne of Green Gables, were it not for her strong belief in the axiom "all that is required for evil to prevail is for good women to do nothing." She prefers the career title "Renaissance Woman" and would happily be bar mates with Ann Coulter, Camille Paglia and Dorothy Parker. Her writing tends towards the intersection of culture, politics and faith with the interest in starting, not stopping the discussion. Follow her on Twitter @SLMGoldberg and @winegirlblog.
All Comments   (6)
All Comments   (6)
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I have found the current scheduling of TV programs to be very confusing. I never know what is going on. I wish they would go back to the September through May schedule.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have found it to be very depressing. I missed some episodes and am confused about the story line.....if there is any.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
The series shows people in real life whose characters display empathy and compassion without gratuitous violence and sexual innuendo. The drama is a portrayal of how decent, everyday people cope with life's vicissitudes without resorting to the pyrotechnics and fantasy usually provided by dramatists on this side of The Pond. It assumes its audience is mature, and then delivers same.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
I did my nurses training in England from 1956 to 1961. I am very impressed with the authenticity of the series. I have only noticed a couple of small mistakes. When we were training it was often mentioned how much the East End and other cities needed midwives. I was going into the operating theatre so not appropriate. I nursed for 56 years in England & the US in many different fields. It is heart warming to see a program about my chosen profession that is so close to the truth. My book is much the same as Jenny Worth's it is called Living & Nursing in America the way it is & was.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
I recently suggested to the missus that we check this out. Now I'm determined to give it a try. Thanks.
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am not as a general rule a TV watcher. But after catching a single episode of Call the Midwife on Amazon Instant Video I was hooked.

This is what I yearn to see more of on TV -- the type of programming that would make me a regular viewer. A window into real life spending time with people I'd actually want to spend time with in real life. People of values. Flawed people, yes (as I said, "real life"), but people who live a life of purpose; who balance their sense of self with a genuine love of their neighbor. Lives lived among people who are a real, struggling, community.

There's that word again: "Real."

More please! More!
9 weeks ago
9 weeks ago Link To Comment
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