PBS’ drama Mercy Street only earned six episodes for its first season, but thanks to a cushy timeslot after Downton Abbey, the short series still nabbed plenty of eyeballs thanks to network viewing, but also plenty of streams. Keeping Mercy Street’s avid viewership in mind, it’s easy to see why PBS has opted to renew the Civil War drama for a second season.
The first season of Mercy Street took us to Alexandria, Virginia back in 1862, where those with both Northerner and Southerner sentiments resided, along with slaves, soldiers, spies and free African Americans. Most of the narrative is set in or around a Union Army Hospital, which is run with a deft hand by Nurse Mary Phinney (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who gets way more to do here than she did on The Returned), and who will be back for Season 2. We don’t know a ton about the upcoming episodes, but we do know that the show will pick up just after the events during Season 1. The location and characters will remain the same, but PBS is promising that the ramifications of the war will become more intense as time wears on.
The season will introduce a number of new elements, taking us closer to the fight and into the halls of Confederate power, all set against the intensifying war, starting with the Seven Days’ Battle and culminating with Antietam.
This renewal may not outwardly seem like a big deal, but with Downton Abbey ending, it certainly could help usher PBS into a new era. In fact, in its announcement, PBS mentions how Mercy Street ushers in a “return” of quality American drama on the channel, marking the first time in over a decade an American series has appeared on the channel. (British imports like Downton or Mr. Selfridge have been common in recent years.) The Civil War story is a period drama, so it should appeal to many of the same viewers as the British imports. Losing Lady Mary for Nurse Mary is not a bad tradeoff.
Thus far, Mercy Street hasn’t been an achievement in style or substance, but it has been a series with a solid storyline and sturdy acting, focusing on the medical capabilities of the age. It also features the same sort of crisp back-and-forth dialogue that Downton Abbey always included, with conversations between Nurse Mary Phinney and Nurse Anne Hastings being particular highlights.
Currently, Mercy Street hasn’t been given an episode order for its seconds season. If Season 2 follows the same pattern as Season 1, we should be looking at six episodes, although I’m hopeful the channel will be able to budget for a bit more. I feel like we were just finally really getting into serious stuff with the Green family, not to mention the budding relationship between Phinney and Dr. Foster, when we last left the series. There’s obviously a lot more story to tell, and Mercy Street will get the chance to tell that story in Season 2.
It will most certainly be some time before new episodes of Mercy Street air on PBS. In the meantime, you can see what else the networks have coming up with our midseason TV premiere schedule.