‘Frankie’ – Episode 1 Review

Frankie’s work / life balance provides a feelgood yet unrealistic approach

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BBC’s new drama, Frankie follows district nurse Frankie Maddox (Eve Myles) as she juggles a demanding work life, battles against NHS cutbacks and tries to pick up the pieces of her deteriorating personal life.

The six-part drama kicked off with scenes of Frankie and her boyfriend Ian (Dean Lennox Kelly) in bed. Whilst he slept, she made a ‘to-do’ list on her phone. This subtle opener worked really well in setting the scene for the rest of the episode. Competing for her attention, the main premise of the series was established. The battle between boyfriend and work commitments kicked off. Round one, ding-ding.

To Ian’s dismay, the job quickly wins the first battle, Frankie then goes to her first call of the day: the elderly Walter Thomas. The programme serves up another dose of reality as the district nurse asks where her patient would prefer his injection: “thigh, tummy, bum?” It is clear that this is a programme attempting to show the NHS as it is: rushed, struggling and real.

Continuing with this theme, Frankie is then forced to take on a pregnant army wife as an extra patient, due to a midwife being ill. Hints are indulgently scattered throughout this scene as references are made to the husband’s employment and their first daughter’s health, as it’s mentioned that she often stays home from school, suffering with ‘everything going.’ Alarm bells start faintly ringing. Frankie then goes on to visit a terminal patient and is greeted by the same woman viewers saw earlier emerging from the house of Frankie’s first patient, the elderly Walter Thomas. Two and two are put together and it is revealed that Jean is caring for both her sick husband and father.

Really drilling in that Frankie is completely and utterly devoted to her job, viewers are then presented with scenes of nurses having lunch, discussing celebrity gossip and diets, much to Frankie’s dismay. She doesn’t even have enough time to finish her satsuma before rushing off to a GP meeting with the dreaded ‘Dr. Evans’. So, intercut with scenes of Frankie’s boyfriend cleaning their house, Frankie is joined by Andy (Derek Riddell), a colleague and confidant, as they race along the Bristol roads to their GP meeting. I got the hint that more will develop between these two characters as Ian tries to call, but Frankie warns Andy not to answer. Hello, tension.

After a meeting, which again reinforced the NHS cutbacks, Frankie ends a busy day by arguing with her boyfriend. He, however, manages to win her over this time by emphasizing her commitment to her work and lack of commitment to him. Rather sweetly, he explains how “If you were a pie chart, work would be ninety percent and I would be the little sad crumb of pastry”. All right, it’s a pretty sickly sweet line, but I thought it worked well as an analogy.

However the lovey-dovey scene doesn’t last for very long as boyfriend Ian puts his foot in it and upsets Frankie by calling her ‘middle aged.’ To get back at him Frankie decides to adopt the ‘lock him out the house, turn the music up and dance around the living room plan’…wild. This move, however, backfires when Frankie realizes the next morning that she failed to take the latch off the door resulting in her boyfriend spending a rough night alone in his car.

As a whole, I think that the first episode delivered a good dose of drama, entertainment, emotion and potential; setting up patient cases well and hinting at future plot developments. There were seemingly realistic scenes of roadside cardiac arrest, family tensions and the difficulties of dealing with illness.

One aspect of the episode that jarred with me however, was the ease at which Frankie blew off attending her own birthday in order to stay with a patient who was giving birth. Aware that her boyfriend Ian was going to propose at her ‘surprise’ party, Frankie gets dolled up and is just about to leave the house when she gets a call and rushes to help her patient. In between scenes of heavy breathing and birthing exercises, Frankie quickly fits in another phone call, this time from her boyfriend Ian. Slotting her phone amongst her now disheveled hair and wiping sick from her party dress, she promises him that she’ll soon attend the party. Of course, she doesn’t make it. The problem is, she doesn’t really seem to be any use at the birth. Surely someone else could have held this woman’s hand?

There were also elements of the programme that seemed a bit too unrealistic. Firstly, it seems unlikely that Frankie would have turned the oven on for her patient Walter Thomas. Thomas had previously been banging on the oven dials, shouting at the kitchen implements and questioning again and again where he got his pie. Yet, Frankie seemed prepared to flip the switch and leave him alone to prepare his dinner. Unfortunately, this resulted in smoke, flames and a call to the fire brigade. This was clearly a wrong move, which Frankie shouldn’t have felt prepared to take. Secondly, Frankie fails to report that she was hit and threatened with a knife by this same old man, suggesting that she is prepared to potentially put her colleagues at risk, which conflicts with her caring character traits that have been built up throughout the episode. Thirdly, it was perhaps overly cliché that the woman giving birth at the end of the episode just happened to be the wife of a returning soldier who, guess what, got back into Bristol just in time to see his newborn daughter.

I can imagine people slating Frankie because, despite repeatedly emphasizing how she is rushed off her feet, there are only two consistent patients visited all episode. However, jamming a script full of visits, patients and illnesses would take away any entertainment and the programme therefore might as well be labeled as a documentary. As a drama, I both laughed and cried. Frankie plays issues carefully and sensitively, dropping hints at the difficulties faced by both the relatives of sick patients and the struggling health and social services. Personally, I thought Frankie worked well in portraying a compassionate district nurse. The intermittent references made to Frankie’s home life and the tension caused by working in such a demanding role were effectively portrayed and consequently caused me to want more, (and ending on such a cliff-hanger, no-doubt helped).