HBO Canada's latest series, debuting tonight, brings with it a built-in audience. Adapted by Jason Sherman from Vincent Lam's bestselling, Giller-winning book of interconnected short stories, the television version of Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures also brings with it inevitable comparisons. The verdict? It's not the book. But it's compelling TV.
The focus is on the love triangle between Fitz (Shawn Ashmore), Ming (Mayko Nguyen), and Chen (Byron Mann), inventing for the series a fertility plot that entangles their lives even further. The eight episodes span a decade, from medical school to residency, grounded in the present day but jumping in time, interspersed with fantasy sequences that drive much of the unexpected humour.
"It doesn't have a linear timeline, so it's interesting to see how it's cut together," explained Mayko Nguyen, who plays Ming. "What we've done for the series is heightened the relationships between the three characters. Their relationship becomes the throughline that connects all the stories."
"Both those who have and have not read book will be pleasantly surprised, I think, because it throws the audience a lot of curveballs," added Mann, who claims his character is the closest counterpart to author – and doctor – Lam.
"Chen is a guy who sits on a lot of emotions. I call him Safe Boy, while Fitz is Danger Boy. Isn't that a dilemma a lot of women face: Safe Boy versus Danger Boy?" Mann joked. The Vancouver native, who went to law school before "running out of things to do" and pursuing acting, doesn't seem quite as fond of the safe path as his character.
Ming seems to have made her choice – she's married to Chen. However her med school affair with Fitz, and the present-day agreement to have Fitz be the couple's sperm donor, threaten her carefully suppressed emotions.
"Ming is an emotionally intense individual but she keeps it all under wraps. She's definitely a bit anal, type A, really driven and really dedicated to her work," said Nguyen, who moved to Toronto from Vancouver to work in theatre and found herself with continued success in television, including prominent roles in ReGenesis and Rent-a Goalie.
Both actors shy away from comparisons to other medical dramas on the air, calling it edgier than Grey's Anatomy and far less procedural than House, for example.
"It's definitely a pay TV cable show," said Nguyen. "There's some nudity. In fact, quite a bit of nudity," she laughs. "It's not as tame as what we often see produced here in Canada. It's definitely a medical drama – the medicine is a huge part of the show – but the storyline between the three lead characters is really the prominent thing."
Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures premieres Sunday, January 10 on HBO Canada.