With the current crop of cable (and streaming) mini-series growing ever longer and more ambitious (or is it pretentious?), this compact Bildungsroman about the learning-curve of a fresh-faced Russian doctor pulling duty in the hinterland (and sinking into addiction) is a four-bite, 90 minute treat. Taken from the fictionalized memoir of Mikhail Bulgakov, the adaptation imagines the grown doctor of 1934 (Jon Hamm) as ghostly mentor to his young self (Daniel Radcliffe) back in 1917. It’s a literary conceit/visual gimmick that pays off, with the Mutt & Jeff aspect of the two actors paradoxically aiding the illusion . . . and the fun in some spectacularly gory surgeries. (You may wish to cover your ears as well as your eyes.) The first episode doesn’t quite click into place (Radcliffe too eager-beaver; his staff not yet revealing their true, supportive nature), but they quickly turn the corner and find the right, irreverent, subversive, disruptive tone (not so far from the original M*A*S*H*’72), aided by a fabulous production design that stops a couple of versts short of realism. Hopefully, a promised Second Season won’t over-egg the pudding . . . er, blinis.
DOUBLE-BILL: Bone up on the time period with Sergei Eisenstein’s surprisingly consumer friendly debut film, STRIKE/’25. (KINO and IMAGE have good editions.)