Judge Adam Arseneau reviews this medical dra—urg! *beeeeeeeeep*
Our reviews of ER: The Complete Third Season (published July 20th, 2005), ER: The Complete Fifth Season (published August 23rd, 2006), 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.
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.
Facts of the Case
"Today, I was puked on, spit at, and bit. Then I tricked a psychotic
woman, and then I almost killed a guy."
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"
• "Last Rites"
• "Greene with Envy"
• "Sins of the Fathers"
• "Truth & Consequences"
• "The Peace of Wild Things"
• "Humpty Dumpty"
• "Great Expectations"
• "How the Finch Stole Christmas"
• "Family Matters"
• "The Domino Heart"
• "Abby Road"
• "Be Still My Heart"
• "All in the Family"
• "Be Patient"
• "Under Control"
• "Viable Options"
• "Match Made in Heaven"
• "The Fastest Year"
• "Loose Ends"
• "Such Sweet Sorrow"
• "May Day"
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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
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!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Outpatient Outtakes": Unaired Scenes
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