Ken Burns' crush on Mayo Clinic dominates new documentary
Star Tribune - 9/24/2018
Sept. 24--TV doctors dedicate an exorbitant amount of their shifts to fighting bureaucracy.
In the NBC series "New Amsterdam," premiering Tuesday night, the savior in scrubs battles bosses over his freewheeling approach to the budget. The title character in ABC's "The Good Doctor" must constantly prove to the board that his autism isn't an insurance liability. The newbie in Fox's "The Resident" is so busy bucking the system that he barely has time to make out with the on-call nurse.
"The Mayo Clinic: Faith-Hope-Science" has a different take on medicine. In the two-hour documentary, premiering Tuesday on PBS, it's the system that's the hero.
Executive producer Ken Burns has fallen in love before, but it's almost always with humans: Jackie Robinson in "Baseball." Shelby Foote in "The Civil War." Louis Armstrong in "Jazz."
This time out, the Emmy-winning filmmaker is head over heels for the Minnesota-based health care provider and its nonprofit, patient-first philosophy. He insists that Mayo administrators had no editorial control, but the film is so laudatory, you'd swear the Mayo's public relations department had final cut.
Burns, who co-directed alongside Chris and Erik Ewers, never comes right out and lambastes the state of health care in the rest of the country, but his message to Washington is clear: Stop playing politics and embrace the Mayo Model.
The filmmakers are smart enough to know it's hard to feel warm fuzzies for an institution. They do offer some flesh-and-blood protagonists, most notably the Mayo clan -- having Tom Hanks read Dr. Charles Mayo's letters is more valuable than a million-dollar ad campaign -- and the Sisters of St. Francis, who combined forces with the Darwin-worshiping family after a devastating 1883 tornado tore Rochester apart.
I could have spent the entire two hours getting to know these pioneers better. But doing so would rob viewers of the chance to meet modern-day patients who echo Burns' sentiments.
There's an inspiring sequence featuring Minnesota Orchestra violinist Roger Frisch undergoing brain surgery to steady his hands that's more thrilling than watching "Grey's Anatomy" surgeons try to remove an explosive from a victim's chest.
If you'd rather hear testimony from famous folks, there's Tom Brokaw and the Dalai Lama, giving the clinic their seals of approval. And you're guaranteed to get a lump in your throat when the late Sen. John McCain appears on screen, thanking doctors for the way they told him that time was running out.
But make no mistake. The star of the show is the Mayo itself. Burns' mission to dissect its success is front and center throughout.
It may be his most clinical documentary to date.
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