Guess it’s just that time of year… series are ending and that seems to be what I want to write about.
This morning, thanks to the glory of HULU.com (yes, we’re aliens and that’s how we roll) I was able to catch the 2 hour series finale of ER.
This show was a phenomenon in the mid – late 90’s. And it was still extremely popular in the early 00’s. But it’s popularity has waned a lot the last few years. My thoughts on that later.
I guess this is really a review of my impressions of ER’s entire run. Not just a review of it’s finale.
ER fascinated me when it first came on the air. It’s portrayal of the activity in the trauma rooms, the O.R.’s and the rest of the hospital were fascinating. And it seemed, early on that the audience was getting the story, or rather the perspective on what it’s like to work in an ER through the interns’ eyes. This made ER very watchable for a young 20’s lad, such as myself. I could relate to the characters that were struggling to cope, manage and survive their start in the ER. Noah Wyle’s, Dr. John Carter, was like a hero to me. He was competent but unsure, strong but not hardened… he was young and everything was new to him. For me, he was the person telling the story. Or at least he was the vessel through which the stories of ER were wrapped around.
That early cast was outstanding. George Clooney essentially got his “big break” thanks to ER. Julianna Marguiles was his charming love interest and a very capable and competent nurse. Sherry Stringfield was the absolutely adorable Dr. Susan Lewis for whom I totally crushed on back then. (And decided I’m still crushing on her in the finale!) William H. Macy, Eriq La Salle and a slew of very good supporting actors… I mean this show had talent to spare. And then there was Anthony Edwards. He’s the reason I first tuned in. He was the “name” I recognized. He was a nerd, after all. And not just any nerd. He was Gilbert! But Gilbert is a character I know he played once. I think, for me, he will forever be identified first and foremost as Dr. Mark Greene. The heart of the ER. The older, seasoned veteran… the matured version of Dr. Carter and of course, his mentor.
The show was fast paced, and didn’t take time to explain all the medical mumbo jumbo for the slow learners. The doctor’s spoke like doctors. Ok, maybe they weren’t always accurate in their medical’ese, but it didn’t matter. They came across authentic enough. And it was thrilling.
Over time ER moved a bit further away from the higher paced drama in the ER and started to focus more and more on the characters who worked there and their lives both in and out of the hospital. At first this formula worked for me. I was always invested in the story lines of Dr. Green, Dr. Ross (Clooney), Nurse Hathaway (Margulies), Dr. Lewis and of course Dr. Carter.
I enjoyed the relationship drama between Green and Lewis, and Ross and Hathaway. Their relationships seemed, adult and real to me. The conflicts they faced never felt forced or contrived. And Dr. Carter’s growth from intern to Doctor was fun to watch.
That carried me through the first 4 or 5 years.
Around this time we started to see the salaries bloom. The actors were becoming bigger than the show. Clooney was starting to make big movies (Batman & Robin anyone?). It was starting to become obvious that the show wasn’t going to be able to keep going with the same cast for very long. Stringfield ran off to get married and have babies, Clooney left and Margulies soon after. It was disheartening to watch those characters leave. But I still had Greene and Carter to carry my interest.
It was also during this period that I started to watch the show regularly with my father. He and I would watch together and then spend hours discussing the cases that were shown in the episodes, or we’d debate the morality of the actions of some of the main characters in questionable situations. It was fun, and was a period where TV served to bring my father and I closer together after my years away in Texas for college.
Eventually, however, the show took a turn that I just didn’t enjoy. First was the assault on Dr. Greene in the bathroom of the ER. While disturbing, the whole story seemed to be the first time that something felt forced for me. Excessive drama just for the sake of “cranking up the drama.” And all it did was send one of my favorite characters into a tail-spin that lasted too long for my tastes. And about the time they started to get him past the emotional scarring of that he finds out he has a brain tumor and within a season or so, he’s gone.
Now, the brain tumor thing didn’t bother me much. Edwards wanted to move on and I thought it was a good way to deal with that. But following on the heals of the way too long recovery from his attack and the rocky start to marrying Alex Kingston’s Elizabeth Corday… I was just annoyed at watching one of my two favorite characters just torn to pieces over a matter of years.
Of course, the demise of Dr. Greene makes way for the rise of the now matured (almost) Dr. Carter. And, as usual, the interchanges between Greene and Carter were always wonderful. I enjoyed the passing of the torch. And I especially enjoyed when Greene says to Carter, “you set the tone” which is what Greene’s mentor had said to him in the pilot, right around the same time that Greene took Carter under his wing.
I hung on to the show for a while longer, eventually losing interest in all the alcoholics and addicts began leading the ER all the time. I love Maura Tierney, but her character, Abigail Lockhart just rubbed me the wrong way 90% of the time. Eventually Dr. Carter suffered similar fates from the writers that Dr. Greene did. His bizarre marriage to Thandie Newton’s Kem Likasu felt very strange. (For the writers defense, Wyle had just had a kid and was desperate for the show to help him take some time off. This resulted in the bizarre Africa storyline that always felt rather disjointed to me.) Eventually the union of Carter and Kem results in Joshua, their still-born child.
Now, this is absolutely a very real issue that a lot of people have to cope with. But again, for me, it was just another way to tear down a great character and leave him with nothing. Eventually the pain of this loss drives a permanent wedge between them and ultimately the character of Carter leaves the ER. First for more trips to Africa (yawn) and eventually for what seems to be a permanent move to Africa. (I don’t know for sure cause I pretty much stopped watching at this point.)
For the past 5 years or so, I’ve barely watched ER. I know my Dad kept with it, right up until he died. And he said it was good. He said they’d gotten it back on track. Well, I don’t know about that. But knowing this was their final season I did manage to slip back into my scrubs and catch a few eps this year.
Of course, those were all episodes that brought back my favorites. I watched the very well crafted Dr. Greene flashback episode that seemed to take a cue from LOST to tell the back story of Angela Bassett’s character. I caught the episode where Carter went in for Kidney Replacement and we were re-introduced to Eriq La Salle’s Peter Benton. And finally I caught the series finale which also brought back Alex Kingston, Sherry Stringfield and Laura Innes’ Kerry Weaver. All in all it was a solid finale. One that felt, pretty right. I could have done without the mini-drama with Thandie Newton’s Kem, but I understood why she was brought back to kind of acknowledge here character’s part in Carter’s story.
But the piece that really tied it all together for me was having Dr. Greene’s daughter, Rachel, visiting the hospital before starting med school. The way they brought her and Dr. Carter together was magical for me. He very happily took her under his wing, and you get the feeling that he’s going to pass on to her all that her father had taught to him. Thus completing the great circle of life. It was a great way to tie the series premier into the series finale. His final words of, “You coming?” to Rachel as he’s rolling off with a trauma into the ER was perfect.
Farewell ER. Thank you for the years you’ve entertained me, and for giving me a vehicle (along with The X-Files) to reconnect with my father all those years ago.