Judge Ryan Keefer wonders why so many damned good looking people work with crack addicts and gunshot wounds?
Our reviews of ER: The Complete Third Season (published July 20th, 2005), ER: The Complete Sixth Season (published January 24th, 2007), ER: The Complete Eighth Season (published March 5th, 2008), ER: The Complete Ninth Season (published October 1st, 2008), ER: The Complete Tenth Season (published May 13th, 2009), ER: The Complete Fourteenth Season (published April 7th, 2011), ER: The Complete First Season (published October 6th, 2004), ER: The Complete Twelfth Season (published January 12th, 2010), and ER: The Final Season (published August 25th, 2011) are also available.
"Oh, great, I have to work. I'm always working when the world ends."
Season five for any show means that they've hit the magical syndication mark. Avast ye mateys, smell the wealth and large bounties by large companies who would kill to air a prime time network hit at 9 or 10 in the morning on their aspiring cable network! This season has the once relatively unknown cast of characters emerging into a solid dramatic ensemble, so much so that George Clooney (who plays Doug Ross) looked at branching out into movie roles. So as Clooney goes, did the show's quality go with him?
Facts of the Case
Let's meet the doctors and nurses behind Season Five of ER, shall we? There's Clooney, his friend Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards, Revenge of the Nerds), Ross' on-again, off-again hospital flame nurse Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies, Snakes on a Plane). Doctor Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle, Biker Boyz) is seeing Doctor Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston, Alpha Dog), but also still maintains a platonic relationship with a former flame in Jeanie Boulet (Gloria Reuben, The Sentinel). Benton also still works with an aspiring doctor in John Carter (Noah Wyle, White Oleander), and everyone is more or less ruled by the ER administrator, a doctor named Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes, Deep Impact).
Altogether, their lives and careers are dramatically documented in this set of Season Five, with 22 episodes spanning 6 discs. Those episodes are:
• "Day for Knight"
Remember when 1998 was so nice and grand? Pentium was a new technology people were learning about rapidly, the tech bubble hadn't yet burst, DVDs were becoming a bit of the rage in some areas, and ER could be counted on to air a really good episode now and again. Nowadays, the cheap ploys that NBC uses to get people to watch the show (look, James Woods and Ray Liotta! An ER you won't want to miss!) are downright silly. Season five of the show still had the cast trying to do well on each 40 minute episode, and if one episode was great, it went unnoticed (but subsequently appreciated, because the cast stayed largely intact). Quentin Tarantino directed an episode early in the series' run that still holds up as one of its best to this day. Despite how Sherry Stringfield's departure was a surprise (just when her character was about to get a new interesting twist on life), it wasn't the end of the world, considering the show was still chock full of compelling storylines and great characters.
(Oh, be prepared for possible spoiler territory here, feel free to skip ahead, in case TNT hasn't gotten to these episodes yet…)
It was no big secret that Clooney was going to be leaving at some point, and considering the popular and/or critical successes that were The Peacemaker and Out of Sight at the time, the writing was on the wall. But as opposed to previous seasons where Ross was portrayed as a gifted pediatrician who had a knack for being periodically self-destructive in his zealousness, he was a much mellower Doug Ross. He volunteered at the free clinic that Hathaway ran and was kept on a fairly short leash (which he was complying with). He and Hathaway were getting along fine with each other, until a situation involving the parent of a terminally ill child involves poor judgment on his part, which culminates with his resignation and relocation to Washington state. In his final episodes (entitled "The Storm"), the buildup to his leaving was more of a climax than the actual departure, as watching Ross and Greene on a February morning in Chicago talk about sports and life away from the City of Big Shoulders. Blah. Oh well, how did the career of the guy who appeared in Return to Horror High turn out anyway?
But the more noticeable character that made their debut in season five was medical student Lucy Knight (Kellie Martin, Body Slam). Martin's face was well-known to TV viewers, and she was initially cast as a replacement to Doctor Del Amico (Maria Bello, A History of Violence), who was Carter's romantic interest and left the show earlier in 1998. Knight's relationship was Carter was rocky at first, but they eventually came together (pardon the pun) and worked more cohesively, until they became a mild item on the show. Djimon Hounsou made a recurring appearance on the show as a janitor from Africa who was extremely protective and violently defensive when it came to discussing his health with Greene, but his appearances seemed to be a bit of a waste, as making him a prototypical "screaming black guy" was almost insulting.
(OK, back in the adult side of the pool…)
But the actors' performances helped make up for some of the writing flaws. Edwards had to be the youngest show patriarch in recent memory, Clooney was headed out the door, and La Salle's new, more emotional turn in the show was a pleasant change of pace. Margulies was still bringing some compelling emotion on her own, and Wyle's turn as the confused, yet in transition doctor was fascinating to see. It's like the Beatles' rooftop show, it was nice to relive, in large part because it wouldn't be happening again.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Aside from the Clooney departure, two things stood out for me when I was revisiting this show. First, before it got to the point now where it seems that everybody is sleeping with everybody else and you need a scorecard to figure it out, the earlier seasons of ER also featured various different instances of fraternization. That's fine, but the problem was because it was done for dramatic purposes, they partially diminished the other things in their lives. Benton's romance with Corday distracted viewers from seeing what would happen with his son is example one. Why not create a couple doctors with boring lives, he asked rhetorically?
The other thing was seeing Reuben as Jeanie Boulet every week almost made me want to join some sort of morbid online death pool of sorts, trying to figure out what weird unlucky thing would happen to her next. Someone can check this medical history, but getting AIDS from her husband, later getting into a car crash with Ross at the wheel (and finding out she had hepatitis) makes her the spokesman for making the most out of whatever dreck the writers came up with to keep her intriguing.
Despite some minor flaws, ER still had a solid base of actors after Clooney's departure. The fact that later years seemed to act as a farewell tour for most of the other cast members has taken a lot away from the show's luster, and it's not really regained it at this point, and probably won't. But for its time, it was still a staple of prime time programming, and to see everyone under one bank of bright fluorescent lights again is nice to see.
ER is found not guilty for their past crimes. Present crimes are reserved for judgment. Get the new crop of characters 100ccs of charisma, stat!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Unaired Scenes
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