Warner Bros. // 2009 // 997 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // August 25th, 2011
Kiss County General goodbye.
In the '60s and '70s, nighttime TV drama made the most out of the hallowed professions of doctor, lawyer, and cop. From The Defenders to Medical Center, Kojak to Marcus Welby, M.D., networks loved to use the implied authority and trust of these noted social "dignitaries" to delve into various character issues and cultural events. But after Watergate and the whole crash of the Counterculture, youth overtook the mindset in Madison Avenue. Soon, shows like these were being buried, thought of as old school and stodgy. While some tried to revive the format, most of these efforts fell flat. Enter Hill Street Blues, a more "realistic" look at the thin blue line, and the everyday drama of such potent professionals was elevated to a kind of epic Shakespearean art. This was further forwarded by one of the seminal medical shows ever put on television: St. Elsewhere.
Between LA Law and NYPD Blue, Law and Order and Homicide: Life on the Street, a whole new era of entertainment was being forged. Into the fray came superstar director Steven Spielberg and equally accomplished writer Michael Crichton. Fresh from the success of Jurassic Park, the duo decide to update the generalized hospital dynamic. With the latter's legitimacy as an actual doctor, the resulting E.R. caught viewers off guard. With its accomplished cast and authentic oddity storylines, it became a smash. It also became the longest running medical drama ever. With the show cancelled after 15 seasons, this DVD package represents its last hurrah. While no longer as ground breaking as it once was, it's still a wonderful send-off for what many consider to be a legitimate TV classic.
It is almost impossible to provide a complete overview of where E.R. started, as well as all that happened in the previous 14 seasons. It would be like describing every book based on a specific genre with some manner of completeness and competency. As for the basics: we find ourselves, as usual, in Chicago's County General Hospital. On staff at the start of Season 15 are the following (among many others): Dr. Catherine Banfield -- Chief of Emergency Medicine (Angela Bassett, What's Love Got to Do With It), Dr. Tony Gates (John Stamos, Full House), Dr. Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney, Baby Mama), Dr. Neela Rasgotra (Parminder Nagra, Bend It Like Beckham) and Nurse Samantha Taggart (Linda Cardellini, Scooby-Doo). A cliffhanger at the end of Season 14 puts the life of Dr. Greg Pratt (Mekhi Phifer, Dawn of the Dead) and the future of fellow physician Dr. Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic, Practical Magic) in question.
Aside from the introduction of a whole new bunch of interns, the main narrative threads for this final season center around Abby and Kovac's relationship, Banfield's desire to have children, issues involving Sam, Gates, and the affect on her son Alex, as well as the mysterious return of Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle, Donnie Darko). Of course, we get the typical mini crises as well as the broadening of perspective to take on current events and other important news headline subjects. All of this is so far removed from the series' origins that former fans may be reading it with hand firmly scratching head. Those who followed the show for all of its time on the air will be a little more enlightened. Overall, here are the mini-synopses of the 22 episodes in this final collection:
* "Life After Death" -- After an ambulance explosion takes the life of Dr. Gregg Pratt, the staff try to regain their composure. Abby threatens to leave with the resigning Dr. Kovac, while Dr. Morris tries to pick up the pieces.
* "Thursday at County" -- As a new set of interns arrive in the ER, the doctors must deal with a terrorist with a broken leg -- and a bag of deadly chemicals.
* "The Book of Abby" -- Abby and Kovac leave.
* "Parental Guidance" -- When new Head of Emergency Dr. Banfield finds the interns lacking, she sets up some rules involving pairing off and mentors.
* "Haunted" -- It's Halloween, and the ER is filled with oddball cases, a serious school stabbing, and a quiet little boy.
* "Oh Brother" -- Banfield must deal with issues at home while infighting among the interns causes friction.
* "Heal Thyself" -- Banfield's past comes back to haunt her.
* "Age of Innocence" -- A horribly victimized man, acquitted of child molestation, inspires the revelation of secrets inside the ER.
* "Let It Snow" -- When Dr. Gates lets a colleague's kids go to a party during a blizzard, a near tragedy has all the physicians and nurses on edge.
* "The High Holiday" -- As Nurse Taggart struggles with her son's injuries, a pregnant woman faces deportation.
* "Separation Anxiety" -- A pair of brothers are shot during a drug deal, while domestic issues trouble several ER couples.
* "Dream Runner" -- A series of dreams helps Dr. Neela Rasgotra make the right decision regarding some critical patients.
* "Love is a Battlefield" -- Dr. Gates and Nurse Sam have a hard time defining their relationship.
* "A Long, Strange Trip" -- Dr. Brenner is back from Australia, while Dr. David Morgenstern returns to the ER to visit a sick friend.
* "The Family Man" -- When confronted, Dr. Rasgotra must tell Dr. Brenner of her career plans.
* "The Beginning of the End" -- It's Valentine's Day, and the ER is abuzz with love, loss, returning friends, and the typical bizarre emergencies.
* "T-Minus-6" -- Unable to have kids with her husband, Dr. Banfield explores her options. Meanwhile, a returning Dr. Carter can't quite keep up with the advances in technology.
* "What We Do" -- As Carter's secret condition worsens, a documentary crew decides to do some filming in the ER.
* "Old Times" -- Dr. Carter needs a kidney transplant. He is visited by old friends Dr. Ross, Dr. Benton, and Nurse Hathaway.
* "Shifting Equilibrium" -- Before she leaves, Dr. Rasgotra has a disagreement over the treatment of two patients.
* "I Feel Good" -- The doctors treat a camp full of kids who've survived open heart surgery.
* "And in the End..." -- Carter decides to fund a hospital for the underprivileged, causing many of his former colleagues to return in support.
Everyone more or less knew that Season 15 of E.R. would be its last. Nothing really stays the course without falling a bit behind. With a writer's strike looming and ratings steadily heading South, the creative forces behind the series teamed up with the network to give the Thursday Night stalwart one more shot, allowing ambitions and other artistic aims to overwhelm what had been, for the most part, a harrowing yet slick sickness-of-the-week workout. Indeed, many will always remember E.R. as being a gratuitously gory trip through medical maladies, the vivisecting landmark which lead the way for Chicago Hope, Grey's Anatomy, and House. In fact, it really did pave the path for all the bountiful blood spatter we see in the current crop of science-based drama -- even something as disconnected from the core as CSI. From amputations and exploding organs to real life battles with guts and gore, the series stretched the limits of TV's Standards and Practices. Luckily, its late night time slot guaranteed that most censors would look the other way.
So for its own sake, E.R. pulled back a bit of the graphicness and, instead, decided to do what it did best -- invest its viewers in the complicated lives of its characters. With careful casting and season-long arcs to contemplate, the final hurrah would be both exciting and oddly anticlimactic. Is it fun to see familiar faces such as Noah Wyle and George Clooney return? Absolutely. Even better, the current version of the show they made famous paid ample respect to who these actors portrayed, never once cheapening their charms or their previous histories. Sure, some only make a cameo like appearance, but for the most part, seeing someone like Julian Margulies back in the setting that made her a star is far more fun than following the narratives of newbies who won't be around much longer. Even better, they help remove the oddball taste of M*A*S*H lite episodes such as "Dream Runner."
Overall, this final season is solid. We get a nice narrative for the always formidable Angela Bassett, watch as John Stamos squirms through some uncomfortable personal choices, and celebrate the finale's desire to make medicine into something humanitarian, not just horrifying. Sure, we have to suffer through a few soap opera-ish elements, and the entire "will they or won't they" aspect of the relationships grows weary after a while. Still, with standouts like "Age of Innocence" (doing a good job with the touchy subject of child molestation), "The High Holiday" (giving Cardellini something to sink her teeth into) and "T-Minus-6" more than make up for the ghost hokum of "Haunted" or the back and forth bickering of "Love is a Battlefield." In general, the value wanes here and there, the 15th year never nearly as strong as the series in its prime. Frankly, it couldn't be. When E.R. was banging on all six creative cylinders, it was definitely must-see TV. At this point in its run, it was "go in occasionally" viewing -- good, if no longer truly great.
Warners does a decent job with the DVD packaging. Spread out over five discs (five episodes per, with two and some bonus features left for the last) and offered in a decent 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image, the bigger aspect ratio can't make up for the medium's occasional on-the-cheap challenges. Certain shots look like sets while exteriors find the right balance between the metropolitan and the mundane. Colors are bright, with details vivid and vital. It's not always 100% smooth visual sailing, but for the most part, the digital format does the series proud. As for the audio elements the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround is excellent. We get a real feel for the hustle and bustle of an actual ER, the side sounds never overpowering the front and center conversations. As for added content, certain episodes offer up unaired scenes (called "Outpatient Outtakes" here), while the final DVD has a "Previously on E.R." retrospective that allows novices to catch up with the series and its wide range of characters and concerns. While nice, these bonus features are not quite as sweeping as the final season of an important TV series deserve.
When it was "IT," E.R. really was "IT." It even landed Hollywood heavyweights like Quentin Tarantino to sit behind the camera and give it some serious celebrity cred. Today, it is fondly remembered as the medical series that stayed serious to its subject without completely straying into surreal character quirk, and is often used as a benchmark for the middling efforts that want to mimic its approach. As a rule, the final season of a series is no place to start one's appreciation. However, E.R. is one of the rare continuing dramas that doesn't require a 100% commitment to everything it's ever done to be valued. Even with its fortunes lagging, there is a lot to like about the episodes of Season 15. The show still had spirit, even if it was lacking fan support.
Not guilty; not the best of E.R., but still pretty good.
Review content copyright © 2011 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 997 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Series Retrospective