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When COVID-19 hit, many TV medical dramas chose to dig their heels in and depict the seriousness of the pandemic, alongside the mental, physical and emotional toll on their first responders. The Residentchose a different path.
The Fox series, which returns Tuesday, opens season 4 by fast-forwarding to a time in the not-so-distant future after COVID is well under control, as Conrad (Matt Czuchry) and Nic (Emily VanCamp) eagerly prepare for their long-awaited wedding. Flashbacks to the early months of the pandemic fill in some of the blanks of how the pandemic has changed the doctors and nurses at Chastain Park Memorial Hospital in all facets of their lives. In some cases, permanently.
ET spoke with co-showrunner and executive producer Peter Elkoff, who joined the team this season, about the decision to move past the coronavirus, who among the hospital staff has been affected by it the most and what married life looks like for Conrad and Nic.
ET: How much debate was there about whether, as a medical drama, you should be fast-forwarding through the pandemic? And why it was decided to move past COVID?
Peter Elkoff: We believe that we couldn't pretend it didn't happen because that would be bad storytelling, nor did we want to have it dominate the season. The choice we made way back in June, we made a prescient decision. We gambled and we were right that when we aired in January would be a time when a vaccine was in the offing. What we decided to do was tell a story that begins in present day in a future where the threat of COVID has been relieved or diminished greatly and to a point where, obviously, we've been promoting the Nic and Conrad wedding. But we pop back and forth between the present and the past that we've all lived through, which is the pandemic, and we tell stories within those flashbacks of how heroic and selfless and brilliant our doctors are and the great emotional toll that the pandemic took on our entire country. We focused on our people and we don't do away with it after that. There are references to the pandemic but we tried to give a big emotional, truthful jolt of what this meant to the country in our flashback framed by the wedding of Nic and Conrad in this first episode. And then we move on.
Especially for a medical show, many that are currently airing have chosen to be in the present. Did you feel like there was some viewer fatigue in seeing the pandemic playing out in real time, at least on scripted television?
Yeah. I think what we wanted to do was make sure that we told a story that said to America, to our viewers, we know what you've been through. But now we're going to tell you stories about our heroic doctors who are fighting day in and day out to save patients in their hospital and do right by the medical industry. We're going to tell you these stories -- uplifting, heroic, some sad, some not. They move forward and not continually live in the pandemic world.
How does this getting through COVID affect and change the doctors at Chastain? How does this affect them moving forward in the long-term?
As an example, Dr. Bell, his whole life was his career. He's a man who put his career before everything, and coming out of the pandemic and watching families who came together -- friends and relatives of sick people -- to grieve together and collect around a deathbed of a character. Well, suddenly he's thinking, "Who's going to be there for me?" And it leads him to try to reconnect with someone from his past, an ex-stepson who, as you probably know, will be played by Conrad Ricamora, and he's fantastic. It leads to a really strong emotional season arc for Dr. Bell that we haven't done in these four seasons.
He is the one character that has the biggest swing from the pilot to season 4 now.
Yes, he has grown a lot. His character has grown a lot for sure. I think the wedding of Nic and Conrad really cements that notion of the connections and the relationships, and as we wonder who of our cast may or may not be alive to make it to the wedding, we start to understand the bonds that all these people have. We go forward with that sense of connection. And the community within the hospital is even stronger and those emotional bonds have really been fortified by going through that experience.
In terms of Nic and Conrad's wedding, this has been a long time coming. Did the shortened season last year accelerate plans to push this forward?
Yes. A lot of my experience with the show started as a fan and then as I sat with the writers and we started talking about what the futures of these characters should be, it became pretty clear that -- the third season was abruptly ended because of the pandemic -- so certain parts of the beginning of the fourth season is really in a way an end to the third and the wedding was something we were heading towards. It felt like it was the correct next level for Conrad and Nic. Yeah, they've had this up-and-down relationship. It wasn't easy at the beginning and here they are. Just as they're getting ready to get married, this incredible, dark, terrible, pandemic hits. We get them married, we get them into the future and now we have a lot of stories to tell about the next steps of married couples who work together. As you can imagine, there are a lot of things that can happen.
What do they look like as a married couple? What challenges do they have to overcome as husband and wife?
What I can tell you is that they experience some of the most triumphant, wonderful parts of marriage, and they also experienced some real tragic moments. There's a lot of big emotional stuff. Let's put it this way, some of the stuff that they go through in the first season are things that most people don't have to go through in their first year of marriage. We tell some big, emotional, crazy, fun stories for them. Not only do they spend their lives working together in a hospital with high-stakes cases and patients who live or die, but we also put them through the wringer and tell stories for them personally that are high stakes as well.
Jessica Lucas is joining the cast as Billie, who was a top neurosurgeon at Chastain and has ties to Nic's past. What does she bring to The Resident and what we can expect with her added presence?
She's wonderful. We've seen her first work. It's fantastic. She's smart and beautiful and really interesting. She [plays] a childhood friend of Nic's who had left the hospital previously before season 1 under a cloud. This is her return, potentially, to visit Chastain and she is someone who is a former neurosurgeon who had a little problem and now she's back.
What are the themes you're looking to hit on this season? Are there any episodes that you're looking forward for people to see?
One of the first conversations we had about a theme for the season, or a basket to put the season in, is each season previous has had a big bad, a villain. At first, it was bad doctors in season 1, then it was the medical device industry in [season] 2. It was the hospital corporation, Red Rock, in [season] 3. What we wanted to do was tell stories about solutions in this one. We wanted this season to be a more solution-oriented, inspiring, doctors and nurses are heroes kind of season. So we've been telling that, but we have a great storyline [where] we go into some gene therapy. We're going to have a story that involves big pharma and we will hint at the end of the season on what a potential season 5 villain might be. We're going to go most of the season without a specific villain and then we're going to tip off the villain for our next season, should we be so fortunate to have one.
The Residentpremieres Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Fox. For more on the series, watch below.