Binge Guide

Weekly Binge: Call the Midwife

by | April 3, 2014 | Comments

Call the Midwife just began its third season in the U.S. on Sunday, Mar. 30, and we’ve got the info you need to get binging. Without the pregnant pause between episodes, you’ll be caught up in no time!


Call the Midwife

Call the Midwife

What’s the premise? The show chronicles the stories of a young midwife in the 1950s as she joins an order of nursing nuns at Nonnatus House, a clinic in London’s East End. With an assignment she wasn’t expecting, Nurse Jenny Lee jumps in with both feet (and many receiving blankets), attending to destitute mothers and parents-to-be within harrowing surroundings.

What’s it like? Referred to as a show to fill the void when Downton Abbey‘s popularity began waning, Call the Midwife is a period piece with heart. The stories we see, based on the real-life memoirs of Jennifer Worth, vary from saddening to joyous, and from charming to disturbing. Some of the topics confronted are not only extreme taboos for the time period (such as, inter-racial adultery), but are also taboo today (for example, sibling incest). Serious issues are handled with care and humor. For instance, Sister Monica Joan (Judy Parfitt) gets laughs for her often funny yet sensitively handled bouts of dementia. She blurts out random profundities such as, “Dogs look up to us; cats look down on us; pigs treat us as equals” and “Once a thing is known, it can never be unknown.” One thing that is known: the characters in Midwife are too endearing to ignore, especially when thrust into ghastly predicaments. And don’t discredit this show in the special effects category, because some of these births are vivid and even gruesome.

Where can I see it? Episodes of Call the Midwife can be seen on Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, iTunes and Netflix. Seasons one and two are available on DVD/Blu-Ray and you can usually find episodes on your local cable provider website. Season three is currently airing on the PBS website and new episodes are posted there once they’ve aired.

How long will it take? We are currently at the beginning of season three. Seasons one and two are made up of fourteen episodes combined, along with two holiday specials. So 17 episodes, each about 50 minutes, adds up to around 14 hours — easily accomplished in one weekend, if you are committed. And no need for an epidural because those hours will pass quickly, especially as the series progresses into the nitty-gritty.

What do the critics think? Call the Midwife is one of the best shows that you (and even many critics) are not watching. Season one is Certified Fresh at 95%. Seasons two and three are both 80 percent on the Tomatometer, but there are very few reviews of each. The reviews that do exist are mostly raves. Of season one, TV Guide’s Matt Roush says, “The heart-tugging Call the Midwife is a delight to watch” and Rob Owen of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says, “Midwife offers a similar mix of warm drama with moments of character comedy that should appeal to Downton Abbey fans.” PopMatters’ J.M. Suarez says of season two: “Call the Midwife continues to be a highly enjoyable story about a very specific and underrepresented group of women in a time when their independence and skill was the exception.” And for season three, Kristi Turnquist of the Oregonian explains, “What makes Call the Midwife special is how the stories grip us on a human level.”

Why should I watch this? Vanessa Redgrave hooks you immediately as the narrator, an elder version of Jenny Lee. What keeps us on that hook are the midwives, who do amazing, life-changing work without recognition. Also, Call the Midwife has riveting surprises. You might not expect such terrible, visceral moments in what first appears as a charming, low-key drama. When those things happen, it’s extra exciting to remember that these stories are based on true memoirs. (It’s also interesting to note that each episode of season three is directed by a woman.) If you are looking for an engaging period presentation with lighthearted humor and heavyhearted drama, Midwife delivers!

What’s my next step? The Complete Call the Midwife Stories: True Stories of the East End in the 1950s by Jennifer Worth, the memoirs from which the series was created, is a great place to start. The subject of last week’s Weekly Binge, Nurse Jackie, is a more contemporary nursing show that might interest Midwife fans. Midwife also drew multiple comparisons to Downton Abbey. Nip/Tuck is another medical drama (albeit a bit more twisted and sensational) that exploits gripping medical visual effects. M*A*S*H*, both the film and television series might gratify, as might episodes of Quincy M.E., which also tackled controversial medical topics. For fun, you may enjoy such comedies about childbirth as Junior, For Keeps and especially Baby Boom with Diane Keaton.

What do you like about Call the Midwife? How would you explain it to a newborn? Get in on the conversation here.

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