Thursday, April 2, 2009

ER: "And in the End"

Tonight, after 15 seasons, NBC's iconic drama "ER" finally concluded its run.
Admittedly, I've had a bit of a sketchy history with "ER." I was a senior in high school when it debuted and, like many people, became a fan almost immediately. It was so raw and exciting, the way it worked to capture the frantic energy of a real hospital emergency room.
That first season, I watched it every week with my mother. It was our little ritual. When I went to college, I didn't watch a lot of TV, and sort of lost touch with the show. I'd catch an episode here and there. I remember sitting in my dorm room, watching the episode where George Clooney's Dr. Ross pulled a kid out of a storm drain, and finding it super-suspenseful. I remember a few years later, watching the episode where Dr. Carter and Kelli Martin's poor character got stabbed. I watched that whole season that Sherry Stringfield's Dr. Lewis returned (in fact, I might be the only person who liked that season).
But, mostly, "ER" wasn't an appointment show for me. It was decent, but I never considered it "must watch" after the first season. My attention waned even more as the original cast members began to depart: Stringfield, Clooney, Julianna Marguiles, Anthony Edwards, Eriq LaSalle and, finally, Noah Wyle. The plots got increasingly soap opera-y (I didn't see this episode, but apparently a regular cast member was killed by a helicopter? Crazy!)
Eventually, I stopped watching the show even casually.
However, I've been checking back in with it this season, particularly given he return of veteran cast members. I missed Edwards' return, but watched most of the Wyle episodes, and part of the Marguiles/Clooney return. Throughout it all, I realized something: "ER" was no longer the exceptional, ground-breaking show it was in its first year but, as broadcast TV dramas went, it wasn't bad. It was still energetic, with reasonably engaging characters. It was no longer edgy, but it was solid TV.
So, I made it a point to watch tonight's two-hour finale, which I found a rather fitting conclusion to this veteran show. We saw a lot of the old characters again, including LaSalle's Dr. Benton (his second appearance this year), Stringfield's Dr. Lewis (I think this was her first appearance this year, but I honestly don't know), Alex Kingston's Dr. Corday (I know she was on earlier this year) and Laura Innes's Dr. Weaver (again, no idea if she was on earlier this year). All the characters got fitting send offs. I particularly liked the familiar, if slightly awkward, final conversation between ex-lovers Benton and Corday. They act exactly like a pair of old flames might.
My favorite return, though, was the least flashy: that of Mark Greene's daughter, Rachel, who resurfaced as a would-be medical student looking to follow in dad's footsteps. Her appearance allowed Mark, who died several seasons ago, to get a fitting sendoff, which was nice.
But the return of old favorites wasn't the only thing I liked. I also enjoyed the parallels between the last episode and the first, like the new doctor, played by Alexis Bledel, who served largely the same role that Carter did in the pilot: the earnest, hard-working young doc who gets a quick lesson in the dark side of the medical profession. Plus it's always good to see Bledel (especially since her character was a bit Rory Gilmore-ish).
Overall, it was a nice, appropriate conclusion. I might not have been a big "ER" fan but, in weird way, I'll miss it.

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