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STUDIO: Warner Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 997 minutes
- Previously On ER: Retrospective Featurette
It’s the final season of one of the greatest shows ever to grace a television screen.
Noah Wyle, John Stamos, Linda Cardellini, Angela Bassett, Scott Grimes, David Lyons, Parminder Nagra
After 15 seasons, the ER is finally closing its doors. And though most of the doctors that ran the place over the years are gone, either through gruesome deaths or life-changing scenarios, the place has mostly remained the same. Sick people are fixed or die, relationships are forged and sometimes squandered, and the tension rarely lets up. Welcome to County General! Just watch out for falling helicopters.
(warning: some of you reading this may consider it spoilerish)
ER is quite possibly my favorite show of all time. So yes, I’m a bit biased. It’s most likely the first real drama I ever watched, as it debuted when I was almost 11 years old and before then hadn’t truly watched a lot of dramatic television. The extent of a lot of my intake was TGIF, various cartoons, or a lot of other sitcom type shows. That’s essentially what I grew up on in early life. With the inception of ER, I realized that TV could (and should) be something a little more important and impactful. I realized, of course, that there were many great dramatic shows in the 80s/early 90s, but I think it’s safe to say that ER changed television forever for the better. And it single-handedly created my passion for television.
The 15th season, I can tell you, was one of the finest the show ever saw. No, really. Lots of folks like to jump up on their soap boxes declaring that a show has “jumped the shark” or seen better days. That may have been true for a time after Anthony Edwards left, as silliness tended to be a little more prevalent after that point and the things that happened seemed a little further from reality. But I fail to be cynical and see it all that way. I really don’t believe the show got bad or unwatchable. A dip in quality is expected when you’re on top for so long and tend to not know when to quit. It’s why these days so many shows, dramas anyway, might only last 5, 6, maybe 7 seasons. Networks and showrunners mostly know when to quit, know when an audience has had enough or more importantly, know creatively when to pull the plug and when all avenues of possible greatness have been traveled. Big networks, however, tend to let their shows go on a little bit longer because creativity and originality isn’t always important when you have a show that can maintain the status quo and still retain an audience. It might be why ER lasted so long, but my point is that the 15th season was not tainted by any of this. It’s solid through and through, harkening back to the old days of the show and in a few cases making one think the show could have lasted even longer.
I can’t really fault any of the plotlines this season. One of the other main arcs besides that of Carter’s involved new ER chief Catherine Banfield (Angela Bassett), tough and resilient as a lot of chiefs were throughout the years. Her ghosts from the past motivate her; she and her husband Russell (Courtney B. Vance) lost a son years ago, it having happened right there in the ER and Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) having been the one who tried to save him. This was the story that was told in the amazing episode “Heal Thyself”, acting as a flashback, of course, in which Edwards, Dr. Romano (Paul McCrane), and Dr. Weaver (Laura Innes) made appearances, Edwards’ being the biggest. It had happened right around the time that he was being diagnosed with a brain tumor that eventually killed him, and the early effects of that were clearly seen. It provided amazing performances for both Bassett and Vance, though, and was one of the best episodes of the season. Another major plotline involved Abby’s (Maura Tierney) final appearance in the ER in the episode “The Book of Abby”, in which she decides to leave without really telling anyone. I was never a huge fan of her character but her exit was fitting and appropriate as we see her place her nametag on the wall where everyone who had ever left (for good or bad reasons) had theirs placed. A wall of fame, so to speak. This is also where Neela (Parminder Nagra) placed her nametag when she left towards the end of the season. Again, not my favorite character, but sees a fitting exit in which she reunites with Ray (Shane West) in Louisiana. One of the best characters and arcs this season was that of Dr. Simon Brenner (David Lyons). He also has some pretty big skeletons in his closet; he was sexually abused as a child and when a man comes into the ER who was accused of sexually abusing a young girl, he starts to unravel and remember what happened to him. It’s a very subtle performance and is at times heartbreaking, culminating in a fairly big catharsis towards the end of the season. Archie Morris (Scott Grimes) continued to be the comic relief of the series, and while I never really believed the show needed a ton of that (certainly not an entire character just for that purpose) it was very, very restrained this season. Morris is and always was a fantastic character.
My favorite arc this season is the return of Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle), coming back to Chicago to be put on a list to receive a new kidney. Back in season 6 he was stabbed by a patient and lost function in one of his kidneys; the other kidney lost function when he was in the Congo doing missionary work. When he returns to Chicago, we see him undergoing dialysis treatments while working several shifts at the hospital. At a certain point things become worse for him, and this storyline ultimately leads into a reunion with Dr. Peter Benton (Eriq LaSalle), Carter’s old mentor and an old regular cast member on the show. Aside from Benton, we also have special appearances from Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies) and Dr. Doug Ross (the much-publicized appearance of George Clooney) working with organ donors in a Seattle hospital to find recipients throughout the country. All are instrumental in resolving this storyline, in which Dr. Carter eventually recovers (getting his kidney) and ends up opening The Carter Center, which is dedicated to his late son and is an advanced clinic designed to help those less fortunate. The series finale “And In The End…” also begins with the original series intro and music and also includes the first-ever exterior shot of the hospital. You’ve also gotta love Jerry (Abraham Benrubi) coming back for a few episodes to alternate shifts with Frank (Troy Evans).
I truly miss this show. It would be interesting to see what would happen if this show had premiered in 2011, since the state of television is so radically different than it was in 1994, but I like to think that this groundbreaking show was the first where “groundbreaking” didn’t sound like an overused cliche as it does today. It’s sad that Michael Crichton, creator of ER among his many other achievements, passed away before the series finale could be written. Him and John Wells, the executive producer and showrunner, really crafted an enduring legacy. It’s easy to also forget the hand that Steven Spielberg had in creating this show. All of that being said, I was extremely satisfied with the 15th season.
The excellent 41-minute documentary that aired before the series finale during the regular broadcast: Previously On ER: A Retrospective. Including interviews of most cast members (except Clooney…as if that guy is ever busy) and featuring scenes from many of the landmark episodes of the show, it’s vital that you watch it if you were a fan of the show. It doesn’t offer a ton that you didn’t know, but it’s a great companion piece to the series finale.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars