Warner Bros. // 2000 // 976 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // January 24th, 2007
The names change. The task remains: saving lives.
If ever a modern-day medical soap opera existed, ER would be it. With its trademark frenzied documentary-style handheld camerawork, large cast, complex and fast-moving storylines, and authentic medical jargon, it has been a flagship show for NBC for over a decade. Many fans consider Season Six to be a pivotal turning point in ER, a massive re-structuring of cast and characters that divides the pre-Clooney and post-Clooney days...but we'll let the court be the judge of that.
"Today, I was puked on, spit at, and bit. Then I tricked a psychotic
woman, and then I almost killed a guy."
-- Abby Lockhart, commenting on her first day in the ER
Life in the emergency room at County General Hospital in Chicago is hectic, to say the least. With a constant influx of unstable, wounded, sick, and ailing patients to contend with, the staff struggle to keep up with the never-ending flow, while trying to find a few precious hours in the day to tend to their own lives. Just as in real life, these doctors are imperfect people -- lying, stealing, cheating, and making mistakes -- but they manage to save lives every second of the day.
ER: The Complete Sixth Season contains all 22 episodes from Season Six:
* "Leave It to Weaver"
Greene and Weaver agree to go out on a limb to oppose Romano's appointment as chief of staff, but Greene ends up hung out to dry by his colleagues. Plus: Luka Kovac is brought in on a temporary basis as an able -- but untrusted -- physician.
* "Last Rites"
Weaver may be head of the ER, but Greene has his own ideas about how to handle situations. Boulet says "yes" to Reggie, and Corday accepts Romano's surprise offer.
* "Greene with Envy"
Newly-appointed attending physician Gabriel Lawrence (Alan Alda, M*A*S*H) is savvy, experienced, personable, and, in Greene's jealous opinion, unsuitable for County. Jeanie and Reggie marry, but not under the circumstances they expected.
* "Sins of the Fathers"
Long-distance MD: Via phone, Greene deals with fallout from his dad's car accident. Lawrence suspects a teen's suicide attempt is the fallout from father/son strife. Finch misdiagnoses a child's iron overdose.
* "Truth & Consequences"
A high-school science experiment gone wrong lands students and teacher in the ER -- and the stress of multiple emergencies pushes Lawrence over the edge.
* "The Peace of Wild Things"
Boulet resigns to be a full-time mother to her new child as an elderly women bids farewell to her dying husband. Meanwhile, Lawrence admits that he is in the early stages of Alzheimer's and that his distinguished career may be over.
* "Humpty Dumpty"
Lawrence departs, but not before saving another life in the ER. Kovac joins the hospital staff on a full-time basis. Corday discovers her new trauma patient is a rapist, and an entire choir arrives en masse to the ER.
* "Great Expectations"
It's Thanksgiving, and Hathaway has two more reasons to give thanks after overcoming complications and delivering twin girls. Greene's family celebration comes with its own complication.
* "How the Finch Stole Christmas"
Lucy Knight risks Romano's wrath (and her career) to arrange a heart operation for a patient. Carter gives gifts to ghetto kids in exchange for their guns. Finch uses her authority to put a teen binge drinker in rehab.
* "Family Matters"
New name, same person: Deb Chen returns to the ER as Jing-Mei Chen. Kovac's strong sense of family involves him in the fate of brothers facing separation. Greene invites his dad to reside with him in Chicago.
* "The Domino Heart"
A precious donor heart becomes available when a patient who recently received it passes away. Malucci gathers evidence to shut down a backroom clinic. Carter and Chen disagree on bending the rules.
* "Abby Road"
Abby Lockhart, a part-time OB nurse who cared for Hathaway, reports to the ER for her third-year med-student rotation. Hathaway has a hunch that a young patient's problem is his mother.
* "Be Still My Heart"
A tense Valentine's Day includes an operation on Romano's dog, a car crash that leaves two children orphaned, and Carter and Knight lying in pools of blood after a schizophrenic patient attacks them.
* "All in the Family"
After Weaver finds Carter and Knight, the grief-stricken ER crew works feverishly to save their grievously wounded colleagues. The deranged assailant flees the hospital, only to be brought back in, the victim of a car accident.
* "Be Patient"
Carter struggles with rehab, and a child is injured in a hit-and-run with Kovac on the scene. A sex-partying teen gets diagnosed with cervical cancer and flees the hospital. A romance between Isabelle and David turns tragic when Greene learns his dad is terminally ill.
* "Under Control"
The proverbial day from hell: a gila monster, toxic breast milk, a deadly error, and a gunshot wound to the head. Greene oversees a particularly hectic shift and Carter, despite his pain, returns to work.
* "Viable Options"
Many candidates, but only one kidney -- Kovac and Corday must select a recipient while the organ is still viable. Weaver defies Romano and is suspended from action, while Benton's careless penmanship results in a patient taking the wrong drugs.
* "Match Made in Heaven"
A notice of Knight's acceptance into psych residency deepens Carter's remorse. Greene cares for his ailing father. Hathaway has news from Ross and an overwhelmed mother tries to induce a miscarriage.
* "The Fastest Year"
After his father reminisces about his Navy days, Greene takes him on a final boat ride in Lake Michigan. Meanwhile, Carter is haunted by terrifying thoughts over the attack that almost killed him.
* "Loose Ends"
Malucci treats a little girl who was molested by her father. Hathaway's birthday is anything but happy. Benton and Kovac clash while Green and his dad manage to express their love just before the elder man passes away.
* "Such Sweet Sorrow"
Touched by a family tragedy at the ER, Hathaway realizes that she must see Ross (George Clooney). Chen notices Carter's increasing unreliability and mood swings.
* "May Day"
Carter gets singled out by the staff and is forced to confront his problem, before he ends up hurting a patient or himself.
Long-running serialized medical dramas are old news. Shows like St. Elsewhere took the medical drama to new and exciting places in the 1980s with its frank portrayal and realistic drama a decade before Michael Crichton ever set down to produce a television show. But ER built upon this sturdy foundation a towering docudrama-styled medical drama that, for lack of a better word, could be called "operatic," pun intended. Spanning 13 seasons with no sign of slowing down, its frenzied pace, stark depictions of real-life surgery and medical terminology, envelope-pushing drama, and soap-style personal relationships have kept the juggernaut rolling, despite at last count having thirty-six thousand cast changes.
Okay, maybe that last count is a slight exaggeration. But even during the quiet moments, ER has a cast list like a revolving door at a temp agency. People come and go at a frenetic pace often difficult to tabulate, with characters often appearing as reoccurring guest stars before graduating to full-time status, then leaving just as suddenly. In addition to three main cast members leaving the show, six new faces join and/or return to the permanent ranks, including Dr. Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic), Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney), Dr. Jing-Mei "Deb" Chen (Ming-Na), Dr. Cleo Finch (Michael Michele), Dr. Dave Malucci (Erik Palladino), and Dr. Robert Romano (Paul McCrane) who graduates to full-time credit status. Departures this season include PA Jeanie Boulet (Gloria Reuben) who retires to raise her newly-adopted baby, Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin), whose departure I shall not spoil here, and Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies), who reunites with the father of her children, Dr. Doug Ross (George Clooney in a surprise cameo). Whew. ER: The Complete Sixth Season really should have come with a hand counter and clipboard.
Though many actors and actresses have launched their star careers from working the corridors of Chicago's craziest emergency room, the show deliberately avoids focusing on a single standout individual. This is an ensemble cast in the truest sense of the word, with characters wandering in and out of scene, often not even appearing in episodes altogether. The more primary and high-ranking cast members get their fair share of back story, but the documentary-style cameras take their turns examining each and every cast member in turn, rooting deep into their personal lives. ER: The Complete Sixth Season has its share of plot arcs like the decline of Greene's father, romance between Benton and Finch, the return of Deb, and departure of Carol, but nothing personifies ER's willingness to push itself into new and exciting areas of television more than the granddaddy of all ER events: the dramatic attack on Carter and Knight that leaves Carter sliding into self-remorse and drug use. As the only longstanding member of the cast remaining (to this day), his decline is a traumatic and unsettling thing.
The cinematography stays true to form with impressively long single-camera takes wandering from ER room to ER room, often lasting minutes in length. With hundreds of backdrops, extras, and minor characters, the proficiency and skill of choreography is like a visual ballet of medical trauma. You may not understand a single word of medical jargon being shouted by the doctors or the procedures unfolding in graphic detail on-screen, but the sheer poetry of motion and chaos is traumatic and beautiful at the same time.
With strong storytelling and an almost unnatural attention to authenticity and detail, ER rewards the longtime viewer with nuances and subtlety of a seasoned, well-developed show. Insignificant patients who wander in and out of the show often come back a dozen episodes later, with dramatic effect. Characters departed from the show still exist in the continuity and minds of the cast; the departures of a few cast members this season have profound effect on the hearts and minds of the characters, and Hathaway's unrequited feelings for Ross (George Clooney's character) manifest in her own departure in a well-executed surprise cameo from everyone's favorite handsome doctor.
Speaking of cameos, ER has always been a haven for guest star cameos, this season being no exception. Notable runs include Rebecca De Mornay (Risky Business) as a breast cancer victim and Alan Alda (M*A*S*H) as an Alzheimer-suffering doctor, a role which rightfully earned him an Emmy nod. Truth be told, his agonizing performance is one of the highlights of the season.
The anamorphic widescreen presentation (the first for ER) exhibits nice color saturation, and solid black levels and detail, but a surprising amount of print damage and white scratches plaguing the source material. A single 2.0 channel soundtrack does the job nicely; the show consists entirely of dramatic queues when new gurneys of injured patients roll their way into the ER and ambient noises of a bustling hospital. The effect is well done, but a full 5.1 track would have been a sublime experience.
Extras have gotten pretty thin after six DVD releases -- ER: The Complete Sixth Season only contains a dozen "outpatient outtakes," or deleted scenes, selectable from each relevant episode at the menu. Beyond that, all we get are a few minutes of gag reel footage.
Maybe it's all the St. Elsewhere I've been watching lately, but at times, ER moves too fast for me. Dialogue is a blur of shouted medical terms spurred on by graphic spurts of arterial blood with tiny plot points sandwiched neatly between each new gurney arriving in the ER. Unless you are an experienced viewer, it takes some time to adjust to the frantic pace.
If ER teaches me anything, it is that only people with deep-seated emotional trauma, horrible physical injuries, or people with one or more of the following are admissible to an emergency room: projectile vomiting, violent schizophrenia, undiagnosable maladies, and/or severe hypochondria. Normal, well-adjusted people with non-life threatening injuries may occasionally wander into the ER, but they are rounded up and removed by security before they can cause any trouble to the cast.
Okay, I exaggerate, but sometimes it does feel like the ratio of crazy stuff vs. regular doctor stuff gets out of whack, sometimes unbelievably so.
ER: The Complete Sixth Season stands out as a landmark season of fine television, but also makes for a great collection on DVD. Despite the serialized nature and long-running character development arcs, these episodes are extremely approachable as one-shots. It is effortlessly easy to toss in a disc at random and enjoy life in the emergency room. They make for surprisingly good comfort television.
Well...comfort television with open heart surgery and lots of screaming.
Not guilty. Ever seen a dude's chest hair catch on fire after being shocked by defibrillator paddles? Man, that was crazy!
Review content copyright © 2007 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 976 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Outpatient Outtakes": Unaired Scenes
* "Cutups": Gag Reel