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STUDIO: Warner Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 914 minutes
•Deleted scenes and outtakes
•Paley Center 300th Episode Tribute
The penultimate 14th season of the most Emmy-nominated and longest-running primetime medical drama in American television history.
Mekhi Phifer, Linda Cardellini, Maura Tierney, Goran Visnjic, Scott Grimes, John Stamos, Parminder Nagra
The doctors of County General go through the various trials and tribulations the show had become accustomed to over a period of 15 seasons. While some of the situations feel a little too familiar at times, like a joke you’ve heard over and over again, the show still proved it had some worthwhile storylines left as it uttered its dying last breaths.
Saying I was a fan of ER is probably a pretty big understatement. Between the time I graduated High School and…well, whatever happened after that, I made it a habit (read: obsession) of watching ER when TNT re-ran it at 10 and 11 am on weekdays. To give you an idea of how addicted I was to this show, I managed to watch seasons 1-8 (because it had only gotten that far in 2002) solely this way, devouring 2 episodes a day every day for however many weeks it took to get through season 8. Sure, i’d seen the episodes before, but I was that in love with the show. But my love for the show dwindled over the years as I did not keep up with it after season 8. I still managed to catch it every now and then, though, and while quality-wise it wasn’t as good, it was watchable. The fact remained that after Anthony Edwards left the show, the quality fell off. I still wouldn’t say the show ever jumped the shark, but when it was great, it was the best show on TV.
The doctors and nurses of County General have been through a lot over the years. This season, a brand new Chief of the ER stepped up to the plate, and Dr. Kevin Moretti, played by the versatile and somewhat underused Stanley Tucci, proved to be that hardass that butted heads with doctors and nurses alike, since this is a show that always had a least one of those in a given season. He wasn’t merely a one-dimensional stereotype, however; he had some real issues to deal with. He constantly had problems with his college-age son and at one point had to leave to deal with it. We never really get a proper resolution to his story, though, like what was actually going on with his son (whether it was drugs or a mental disorder) and I felt his character wasn’t as fleshed out as it could or should have been. Granted he only really had a season on the show but don’t start something if you can’t or won’t finish it.
Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney) continued to battle her alcoholism and in this season it came to a head. She even jeopardized her marriage to Luka (Goran Visnjic) and the well being of their infant son. In true Abby fashion, she was filled with angst all the time and at times it became a little annoying. There’s only so many times you can empathize with such an inherently moody character. As good an actress as Maura Tierney is, I don’t really feel like Abby evolved much at all as a character, even with her conquering her addiction.
One of the best things about this show was its guest stars, and season 14 didn’t have the strongest crop but there were some definite standouts. Hal Holbrook played a man being looked after by Luka late in the season when Luka decided to not return to County General and work in a hospice ward instead. As is the case with Holbrook, he played that sweet, wise old man we’re so used to from him and i’ll personally never get tired of it. His recent work in Sons of Anarchy is way better but this was great too. Aida Turturro (Janice from The Sopranos) had a turn as a mother of 4 kids with a ruptured aorta, a patient of Neela’s. Her story was sad and her performance was terrific and unexpected, displaying a range rarely seen from her on The Sopranos. One of the best guest spots was from a lesser known actor, Jonathan Banks (the awesome Mike the fixer from Breaking Bad), and he hit it out of the park. He played a man dying from cancer, but his story was way more complex than that. He was a prison doctor who administered lethal injections to inmates, and was seeking atonement for his sins. His life’s quest after retiring had been to track down the loved ones of the men he killed and asking for forgiveness for what he had done. The episode (aptly named “Atonement”) involved him saving a young boy from drowning, the boy being the son of one of the men he killed. It was one of the best small stories of the season, and his performance was heartrending. Steve Buscemi also showed up in the season finale “The Chicago Way” and predictably played a former mob bookkeeper turned government informant in witness protection. The guest spot wasn’t his strongest work, or the strongest guest spot of the season, but it’s Steve Buscemi and the guy is fun to watch no matter what.
In the later years of the show, Mekhi Phifer did an impeccable job on this show and in my opinion became a character every bit as important to the show in later years as some of the other major docs were in earlier years. His presence in the ER as Dr. Greg Pratt was at an all-time best in season 14. He had to protect his younger brother Chaz, a newly-minted EMT who recently came out of the closet to his new co-workers, which apparently doesn’t fly if you’re trying to fix sick and dying people. Face-punching ensues. If you were a fan of the show you know his fate as a character but it’s a good thing he had some meaty stuff to chew on this season. Plain and simple the guy is a talented actor who doesn’t appear in stuff nearly as much as I would like.
If there’s any main complaint I can levy against the show in later years, especially in season 14, is just how goofy it got to be at times. I mean, it doesn’t always have to be all gloom and doom and certainly there’s always room for a little comic relief. But at times the show just gets a little too far-fetched, like when a lot of the doctors go and play ice hockey against each other in the middle of a damn shift. Really? There are slightly negligent doctors all over the place in the real world, i’d imagine, but I bet they’d think twice before doing that. The idea isn’t even that bad, but the fact that they get into a brawl with each other and then come into the ER themselves in front of all those patients is a tad bit hard to fathom, for me anyway. Another strange moment has Archie Morris (Scott Grimes) testing a stun gun on himself so he could publish a story about it in a medical journal. Scott Grimes played Morris with a balance of humor and heart, but even this I couldn’t get behind.
For a show that had a constantly changing pool of actors as much as this one did over the years, it’s amazing that it maintained such longevity. The quality wasn’t always there and some (read: mostly everyone) would argue that it was never as good as it was with George Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Noah Wyle, and Julianna Margulies, but one fact remained true: it was always engrossing and like the overused pizza analogy, when it was bad it was still good. That might be just me, though, and my inner ER apologist. One can’t deny the impact the show has had on television to this day, and while season 14 was one of the weak ones (not only was it writer’s strike-shortened, but it was supposed to be the last season) it does nothing in my opinion to tarnish the legacy. Overall the show sticking around so long was a result of the solid writing, even in later years, and creating exciting (if a little re-hashed at times) medical scenarios.
Pretty slim, for the most part. There’s an excellent Paley Center Tribute to the show for its 300th episode which occurred in this season, and it’s a really great Q&A with the main cast and producers that offers a ton of insight into the making of the show. Really hilarious was the revelation that when a set got leaky during filming they had to use diapers to absorb the water that was coming in. I guess the show was nothing if not well-funded by NBC! There were also a bunch of deleted scenes and outtakes.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars