Friday, April 3, 2009

Saying Goodbye to ER- Some Personal Thoughts

When ER debuted on NBC in September, 1994 and was an immediate critical and popular success, I very pompously refused to be sucked in by the hype and refused to watch it for about the first two or three years. When I did finally decide to check it out, probably during Season Three, I got hooked and couldn't get enough of it. I watched it each Thursday at 10PM, and watched the reruns on TNT religiously each day. If I couldn't catch a show, I made sure to tape it (remember those things...VHS tapes?).

The thing that struck me about it first was the number of speaking parts and recurring characters. I grew up in an age of I LOVE LUCY, ANDY GRIFFITH, and BONANZA, where shows had a small group of main characters, several supporting players who popped in with one or two lines, and the mandatory weekly "special guest star". ER's ensemble included (originally) six leads, a dozen or so recurring characters (nurses, clerks, family members), and seemingly dozens more patients and various others who were part of the guest cast per week. One day I counted the speaking parts- more than 50 actors had lines. I had never seen that much interaction in any TV show, ever, and its rare to find a movie with as many.

There was the pace, and there were the various storylines running simultaneously- the viewer never knew if there would be a resolution in a particular episode, or would it arc into the following episode, or even further. The writing could be soap opera-esque at times, but it served its purpose- you had to hang around to see what happened.

There were the romances.....Doug and Carol, Peter Benton and Jeannie, Mark and Elizabeth, Luka and Abby, Tony Gates and Sam, there were others, ones you rooted for to work, and the ones where you were yelling at the screen, "Don't go there! He's (she's) bad news!". The friendships- Doug and Mark were the most memorable- colleagues who were different in outlook and personality, but complimented each other. And the mentors....Peter Benton and the young John Carter, and how their relationship evolved from gruff teacher and callow student to older-younger brother, and later on how Carter's young student Lucy Knight met a sad and needlessly tragic end.

And there was the parade of memorable guest stars, some famous and others who would be in years to come- Sally Field as Abby's bi-polar Mom, the teenaged Kirsten Dunst, future Sex and the City stars Cynthia Nixon and Kristen Davis, future CSI's Jorja Fox, George Eads, and Marg Helgenberger, soon to be Law and ORDER SVU star Mariska Hargitay, a Charlie's Angel in waiting Lucy Liu, and Obi-wan Kenobe himself, Ewan McGregor. There were countless more- one of my favorites was Red Buttons' Emmy nominated turn as an old gentleman who's wifes recovery was practically guaranteed by young Dr. Carter, and his feelings of betrayal after she takes a turn for the worst and passes on.

Sadly, Michael Crichton, the physician turned author/screenwriter/director/producer who wrote the original treatment for ER and is credited as its creator, never lived to see what was probably his greatest artistic success run its course. Crichton died on November 4, 2008, during this, the 15th and final year of the show's remarkable run. Yet it is a strange irony that Crichton died before he saw that closure, much like the moral center of the original cast, Mark Greene. Greene wanted to live long enough to see his rebellious daughter Rachel mature and get her life together. Greene never saw that happen- but in the final episode "And In The End" the audience did- medical student Rachel Greene applies for internship at County.

We also saw the fruit of the maturation of John Carter, from bumbling and awkward intern to young middle aged philanthropist and mentor. The closing scene with Carter and the second generation "doctor to be" Rachel Greene awaiting casualties of an industrial accident showed the continuity of the doctor's help as many people as you can. You might lose some battles, but strive for the victories, and come back and do it again tomorrow.

Thank you, cast and crew (past and present) of ER.

For 331 episodes and fifteen years you did your job.

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