STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $49.98
RUNNING TIME: 991 Minutes
Two examinations of the historic live season opener, Ambush: Anatomy of an Ambush, Live post show
Outpatient outtakes: deleted scenes
Cutups: gag reel

Whereas I let you all in on the fact that I’d watched ER since the beginning when I reviewed Season 3 (here), I’ve admittedly let this show fall off of my regularly scheduled programming since Noah Wylie left at the end of last year (Season 11 for those of you keeping score). There aren’t many shows I’ve stuck with as long as this one and with the entire original cast now gone – except for Sherry Stringfield who left for five years and then came back – it just felt time to put the thing to bed. Reviewing box sets of shows that have multiple seasons such as this one and trying not to retread stuff said in the previous review is always a challenge. But I’ve managed to get myself out of trouble on a couple of occasions by going with the old compare / contrast. So why stop now I figure? Today’s ER vs. Yesterday’s ER coming up:

didn’t mind having to kill that guy in the parking lot that tried to
rape you, Doug. I also didn’t mind it when we had to go on the run as a
result. Nor did I mind it when you robbed that liquor store because we
didn’t have any more money. And I rather enjoyed blowing up that rude
trucker’s rig when he leered at us and called us bitches. But for
Christ’s sake, I can’t believe you slept with a young Brad Pitt…"

The Show

Dr. Ross (George Clooney) vs. Dr. Kovac (Goran Visjnic): I’m going with the big guns right off the bat. If you think there’s anything to compare here, you either haven’t been a regular viewer of the show or you’ve been in a 12-year coma. Clooney, who had the balls to leave a #1 show to try his hand at such lowly-regarded movies as Out of Sight, Three Kings and Ocean’s 11 and 12 (note thinly-veiled sarcasm) was the heart of this show its first five seasons. His maverick Dr. Ross was the heartthrob of female viewers and his penchant for nailing half the female characters to ever appear on the show was an example all single guys should hope to emulate. He was a rogue at times, caring more for the welfare of his child patients than hospital red tape. His on again / off again relationship with Hathaway (Julianna Margulies), clashes with upper management and friendship with Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) kept you coming back for more. He was charismatic, opinionated and reckless.

Then there’s Goran Visjnic’s Dr. Kovac…. I don’t dislike Kovac, but after watching him for five-plus seasons, I’m ultimately just left indifferent to him. Visjnic is no Clooney (evidenced by his nothing role in Elektra) and Kovac isn’t anywhere in the same vicinity of interesting as Ross. He’s had his crises, like having his family killed during the Serb War, being taken hostage during a stint in Congo, or having the story of a car crash told in reverse (the admittedly good yet gimmicky Season 9 episode Hindsight). He’s had failed relationships with Abby (Maura Tierney) and Sam (Linda Cardellini), but in the end I can never get past the impression that he’s a mildly interesting supporting character at best and a pale imitation for Ross, certainly of Clooney, and not lead character material, which is where he is now in the show.

EDGE: Yesterday’s ER

It sucked when there were technical difficulties on the Mike Figgis-directed episode.

Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards) vs. ???: I was looking for a modern character to compare the late Dr. Greene to, but there really isn’t one. Greene and Ross were the two alpha males of the show back in the day, and today’s ER, since Wylie left the show, has Kovac handling that role solo. Greene held center stage on the show for eight seasons: losing his marriage, having trouble connecting with his maturing daughter, getting brutally assaulted, blowing a potential relationship with the departing Dr. Lewis, getting remarried to English surgeon Corday and having another kid, coldly letting a patient die who threatened his family, resolving issues with his distant father, and bowing out in heart-wrenching fashion thanks to a brain tumor. Except for Kerry Weaver and Carter, no major character had been on the show longer, and certainly not in the lead status that Greene was for those eight seasons. Mark Greene was ER for two-thirds of its 12-year run. The show has never been the same since he left.

EDGE: Yesterday’s ER

Head Nurse Carol Hathaway (Juliana Margulies) vs. Head Nurse / Dr. Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney): It’s hard to make a bigger entrance than Hathaway did in the pilot – being wheeled into her own ER after nearly overdosing on pills in a failed suicide attempt. She had a tumultuous relationship with Ross, but eventually ended up with him thanks to Clooney’s surprise cameo at the end of Season 6 in her farewell. While also having a failed engagement to Dr. Taggart (Rick Rossovich) in Season 1, Hathaway’s most powerful storylines always seemed to come back to her relationship with Ross, including bearing his twin girls during a reconciliation. She was certainly one of the best female characters in the history of the show, dealing with nursing issues and flirting with becoming a doctor, but ultimately she was defined by that relationship with Ross and never stood out on her own.

Nothing quite rocks like an ER kegger…

Whereas Abby has been a deeply flawed character who has covered much of the same ground as Hathaway, such as failed ER relationships (with Carter and Kovac) and some that she hasn’t: a failed marriage and dysfunctional family relationships (her mother is bipolar and troublesome as nicely played by a recurring Sally Field). Abby is also a recovering alcoholic who has relapsed at times during her run on the show. Her relationship with Carter was similarly rocky as the Hathaway / Ross relationship was, and in fact Carter was going to ask her to marry him before he reconsidered at the last second. A subsequent relationship with Kovac had about as much spark as a dead battery and they also parted ways. Abby also took the next step that Hathaway didn’t by continuing her education and making the shift to M.D. status. She’s been a more complete character than Hathaway was because she’s been able to define herself more than her relationship with someone else on the show. She’s probably been my favorite female character in the show’s run.

EDGE: Today’s ER

Dr. Peter Benton (Eriq LaSalle) vs. Dr. Gregory Pratt (Mekhi Phifer): Benton was easily the most tortured character in the entire show’s run. A brooding, career-obsessed loner, Benton was never in the show’s forefront, despite being its most intense character for the eight seasons he was on. Among the many things he had to deal with was caring for his invalid mother and her later death on his watch; the inability to save his nephew from a gunshot wound; and a tumultuous relationship with a childhood friend, Carla (Lisa Nicole Carson). His son, Reese was born deaf; and a brief fling with married doctor’s assistant, Jeanie Boulet (Gloria Reuben) resulted in a scare when she tested positive for HIV. Benton then later discovered that Reese wasn’t his biological son, and had to endure a custody battle with Carla’s new husband (Vondie Curtis Hall) after her death. Add to that the fact that Benton was Carter’s supervisor during his early surgical internship and his boilerplate career struggles on the show, and Benton wasn’t doing too much smiling during his eight seasons.

so we’re agreed: you bone Hathaway this season, I’ll wait till after
Benton gets tired of nailing Corday before I make my move on her, and
we’ll consider Del Amico, Weaver and Carter targets of opportunity…"

LaSalle played Benton with an unquestionable intensity, but never quite got the spotlight that he deserved. From memory I can tell you that it was somewhere around Season 7 before Benton got his first featured episode when he had to go to the South in a doctor exchange program to earn some quick cash. The issue several years ago of LaSalle supposedly not ever being featured on TV Guide although every other major (and white) character on the show had been also comes to mind. Although I enjoyed watching Benton’s storylines, it almost got tiresome because the guy could seemingly never catch a break and was always hung up about something, be it his career or personal life.

Mekhi Phifer, who’s currently in his fourth season on the show as the cocky but talented Dr. Pratt, has taken over lead homey status from Benton as a doctor who came from the hood. Pratt works the ER as opposed to being a surgeon, and his only major relationship was with Dr. Chen (Ming-Na), which went the direction of most of the relationships on the show. He’s had some good storylines, particularly when it comes to bucking the system in order to treat patients, and is a good character (this is probably Phifer’s best work since Soul Food), but he hasn’t been through a quarter of the crap that Benton went through in the same amount of time and he still needs to earn his stripes.

EDGE: Yesterday’s ER

"How much freakin’ longer am I gonna have to wait for that Miracle Mile special edition?"

Yesterday’s John Carter (Noah Wylie) vs. Today’s John Carter (Up to Season 11, Noah Wylie): The only person that Carter really has to compete with is himself. Until Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes), who came on the show at the beginning of Season 2, finishes this season, no major character will have been on the show as long or have gone through more changes than John Carter. Carter is actually the basis of creator Michael Crichton’s experiences as a med student as he started the show as a third year and left as the glue that tied everything together for eleven seasons. More than anybody, Carter became the staple of the show not only for his longevity, but for his metamorphosis from wide-eyed surgical student to grizzled ER veteran. Just to highlight some of his trials: he vacillated from surgeon to ER doctor; was stabbed in an attack that claimed the life of Dr. Lucie Knight (Kellie Martin); became a drug addict; was involved with Abby and almost proposed to her, joined Kovac in a stint in the Congo, inherited his family’s vast fortune over his father, which only deepened the rift between them; became involved with a Congolese AIDS clinician, Kem (Thandie Newton), and had a baby with her that was stillborn. In fact, it was in an attempt to reconcile with Kem that he left the ER after having just received tenure. Watching Carter grow over the 11 seasons was like watching Friends for the entire run (something I wasn’t quite able to do either). Carter’s departure was like losing the last link to the show’s greatest years and for me that was pretty much it. However, I did find that I enjoyed the doctor that Carter was in the later seasons after seeing all of the things he’d endured as opposed to when he was just starting out. So even though he’s just recently left the show:

EDGE: Today’s ER

"Do you want my sausage?"
"Oh yeah, baby!"

Guest stars: Back in the earlier seasons, including Season 4, characters like Dr. David Morgenstern (William H. Macy), Dr. Amanda Hicks (CCH Pounder) and Dr. William "Wild Willy" Smith (Michael Ironside), and Dr. Ellis West (Clancy Brown) were practicing or doing work in the ER. And characters like Walt Robbins (Ving Rhames), Benton’s brother-in-law were in storylines outside the ER. In more recent Seasons you’ve had Pratt’s father Charlie Pratt (Danny Glover), Abby’s mother (the aforementioned Sally Field), Carter’s lover Kem (Thandie Newton), Paul Nathan (Don Cheadle), Dr. James McNulty (Edward Asner), Dr. Gabriel Lawrence (Alan Alda) and many others that have spanned the 11 years of the show. ER‘s always been able to get great actors in great roles its entire run.

EDGE: A wash

WINNER: Yesterday’s ER: 3 to 2 with a wash


Best Recurring ER Doc: Dr Robert Romano (Paul McCrane). Technically Romano was recurring for awhile before he became a cast regular. Romano was the biggest asshole in the entirety of the show’s run. He was abrasive, supremely confident to the point of ridiculous arrogance, had no problem calling a spade a spade and was just an all around prick. He was probably the most distinctive character ever on the show. Unfortunately for Romano, however, he had a couple of encounters with some helicopters. One sliced off his arm during a rooftop delivery of a patient and made him useless as a surgeon. He was relegated to the ER, which he loathed, and then later, after he had fired Pratt and was generally making everybody’s lives hell, he was killed when another helicopter burst into flames and used him for a helipad. I’ve always liked McCrane’s work, going back to Robocop and this character was easily his best work. Sorry to see him go.

Clooney: "Steven look, Anthony and I were talking and we just loved Schindler’s List
to death, but we felt that the Nazi’s were really just misunderstood in that film."
Edwards: "Yeah, and honestly, what was with that whole, ‘Give us us free!’ thing
in Amistad? That movie was a snoozer by the way."
Spielberg: "I see. Well gentleman, I welcome your input. Honestly. Thank you."
away into telephone): Yeah, Frank? I got a couple of wise-asses who

need to disappear. No, the usual method will be fine. Thanks."

Hottest ER Doc: There’s been an assload of doctors to come in and out of this show over the past 11 years, not the least of which has been a parade of smokin’ physicians. First of all, Stringfield wasn’t bad lookin’ when she was first on the show, but when she left and came back, she got a healthy dose of the Gold Kryptonite. There’s been Michael Michele and Gloria Reuben, two fine sistahs, (both of whom bedded Benton by the way). Dr. Anna Del Amico (Maria Bello) spent a season getting wooed by Carter before she left. If you’re into the physically challenged, Kerry Weaver’s got some decent knockers, but she went and got a lick-her license and went downhill from there. More recently there’s been Abby Lockhart, who ain’t hard on the eyes, and Indian beauty Neela (Bend It Like Beckham’s Parminder Nagra). There was also Dr. Maggie Doyle (CSI’s Jorja Fox) who was giving everybody a hard time during Seasons 4 & 5. I’d let Dr. Corday operate on me if you know what I mean. Lucy Knight was cute before she got knifed; and there’s Deb Chen (Ming-Na) if you feel like Chinese. Dr. Harper Tracy (Christine Elise) spent some time on the bedside in Season 2; and Dr. Kim Legaspi (Elizabeth Mitchell) was in the ER for a time in Season 7. However, since a winner must be declared, I’ll go with Dr. Nina Pomerantz (Jami Gertz) who was hanging around for a half a dozen episodes in Season 3. Congratulations.

"I hope this’ll teach you not to play naked Chippendale rugby Mr. Oliver…"

Biggest ER Gimmick Show: Take your pick. There’s been the Season 1 Tarantino directed-episode, Motherhood; the live Season 4 premiere, Ambush and the previously- mentioned episode-in-reverse, Hindsight. My money is on Ambush.

Episodes to look out for in Season 4 are the oft-mentioned live episode Ambush, and the fantastic Fathers and Sons where Ross and Greene roadtrip to California to deal with their respective family issues (the entire episode takes place outside the ER). Maria Bello began her single season, Alex Kingston joined the cast for a seven-year run and William H. Macy concluded his run on the show. Season 4, like Season 3, was when the show was still absolutely red hot. All the main players were still there and the stories were superb. This is a great season of the show to own.

8.6 out of 10

The Look

Good. The show is presented in 1.78:1 and the transfer is also good. I said before that the camera work on this show is excellent and Season 4 is no different, especially in Ambush.

8.4 out of 10

The low point in the season was definitely the Faraci cameo.

The Noise

With Dolby Digital, there’s no complaints here either. The ER score is usually energetic and thankfully there’s hardly any of the Gen-X rock du jour to date the show. The dialogue is nice and vibrant and you should have no trouble hearing people dying in agony.

7.6 out of 10

The Goodies

Anatomy of an AmbushA pretty solid 20-minute behind-the-scenes piece on the preparation, execution of and refelctions on the live episode, Ambush. They got interviews from the major cast members and production staff from then and now, including director Thomas Schlamme and writer Carol Flint.

Live post show –
Ten minutes of the wrap parties of the two live performances (one for each coast). Lord Marshall Spielberg even drops by to offer his take on the whole thing.

Outpatient outtakes: deleted scenes – There’s a total of 25 unaired scenes from ten episodes. They’re presented on the discs that the episodes are on and you don’t have to go far to look at them, which is how it should be instead of grouping them all on one disc and having other discs say "See other discs for special features."

"Yes, I definitely plan to stay with the show for as long as it runs…"

CUTups: gag reel – A pretty good offering of ten minutes of guffaws. Probably the best is when Edwards walks in on a prank of a member of the crew showing butt crack.

There’s no commentaries, which would have been nice on Ambush and Fathers and Sons. But I suppose there’s only so many ways you can talk about how to prepare to wipe butts and clean puke and remove spleens and stuff.

6.8 out of 10

The Artwork

More ER Hollywood Squares at the top and a cut from an episode at the bottom. It’s fine, I’ve seen worse.

6.0 out of 10

Overall: 8.1 out of 10