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Hamm, Radcliffe shine in a noteworthy ‘Young Doctor’s Notebook’

Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe star in 'A Young Doctor's Notebook.'

Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm share the same role in the decidedly unconventional Ovation comedy ‘A Young Doctor’s Notebook.’

I didn’t want to let the weekend pass without at least mentioning A Young Doctor’s Notebook, the weird but hilarious British miniseries currently airing in heavy rotation on the Ovation cable channel. Set during the Russian Revolution and adapted from a series of short stories by Russian doctor and writer Mikhail Bulgakov, the dramedy stars Jon Hamm (Mad Men) as a physician whose discovery of a diary he kept as a young man prompts him to reflect on his challenging days as a recent medical school graduate (Daniel Radcliffe) struggling to cope with life in the snowy and remote village of Muryevo, where he has been dispatched.
This Younger Doctor (neither Hamm’s nor Radcliffe’s characters are giving proper names) has an excellent academic record behind him, but his lack of professional experience leaves him racked by insecurity, especially with the surreal added pressure of having the Older Doctor peering over his shoulder and second-guessing everything he does. How are these two alter egos interacting and occupying the same space and time? Maybe it’s all happening in the imagination of Hamm’s character, or perhaps these are hallucinations brought on by the Younger Doctor’s increasing addiction to morphine, which he has begun taking to endure a stress-induced peptic ulcer. Or maybe it doesn’t really matter, because no matter how you rationalize it, Hamm and Radcliffe make for a truly splendid comedy duo.
And, much as M*A*S*H mined big laughs against the backdrop of Korean War horrors, A Young Doctor’s Notebook is, for the most part, unabashedly comic, which only intensifies the impact of moments like the one in which the Older Doctor tries in vain to stop his younger self from taking that first shot of dope. This duality of tone makes A Young Doctor’s Notebook an ideal vehicle for Hamm, since it gives him a chance to show off both his formidable comedy chops and the undercurrent of deep melancholy that is so much a part of his performance as Don Draper on Mad Men.
Radcliffe, however, is just as good as the Younger Doctor. You have to give it to this young actor: He easily could have coasted, or even just comfortably retired, following his phenomenal commercial success in the Harry Potter movie series, yet he seems to be working overtime to prove his range as an actor, even if that means toiling in decidedly unconventional projects like A Young Doctor’s Notebook for a British satellite channel and, now, an American cable network with a less-than-stunning subscriber reach.
Sky Arts, the British satellite outlet that originally aired these four episodes of A Young Doctor’s Notebook, already has ordered four more that are due to air in the UK this December, with Hamm and Radcliffe reprising their roles – role – whatever. I hope those episodes eventually make their way to this side of the pond, because trust me, A Young Doctor’s Notebook is a risky and rewarding breath of creative fresh air. For more on the series, visit www.ovationtv.com.

The ensemble of 'A Young Doctor's Notebook' on Ovation.

Rosie Cavaliero, Adam Godley, Daniel Radcliffe, Vicki Pepperdine and Jon Hamm (from left) star in ‘A Young Doctor’s Notebook’ on Ovation.