In 1988 NBC cancelled the critically acclaimed hospital drama St. Elsewhere after a six-year run. The Emmy winning show with an incredibly loyal fan base -- though never a top ten hit -- was described as reflecting the gritty reality of a big city hospital.
So who would have thought that six years later, two movie moguls with limited television experience such as Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg, who were fresh off their successful collaboration on Jurassic Park, could sell NBC on a hospital drama reflecting the gritty reality of life in the emergency room of a big city hospital?
Based on his own experience as a resident physician in a busy hospital emergency room, Crichton penned a screenplay in 1974. The script remained unsold and Crichton moved on to other projects until 1994 when he and Spielberg turned Crichton’s screenplay into a television pilot. The pilot, which was virtually unchanged from the original screenplay, aired on September 19, 1994 opposite Monday Night Football and did surprisingly well. After being moved to Thursday nights, the show became a surprise hit of the 1994-1995 season. ER would eventually anchor NBC’s Thursday “Must See TV” lineup and last for fifteen seasons.
On July 12th, 2011 Warner Home Video released the fifteenth season of ER on DVD. The five-disc box set contains all 22 episodes of the final season as well as “Previously on ER,” a retrospective featurette. With Season Fifteen being added after the show received a stay of execution due to the writers strike during Season Fourteen, the show was given a chance to pass on in a far more dignified manner, and the now reasonably satisfied writers were allowed to stretch their creative muscles to fill the additional episodes.
In many cases the stretching of said muscles proved to be quite entertaining, and in other cases not so much, such as Episode 12, “Dream Runner,” in which Neela (Parminder Nagra) dreams through various actions and subsequent outcomes of the same cases over and over, or Episode 18, “What We Do,” where filmmakers visit the ER. The results of the writers testing their flexibility appears to be injury-inducing due to spending too much time on a couch watching reruns of M*A*S*H...
Season Fifteen introduces us to Dr. Cate Banfield (portrayed by Oscar nominated and Golden Globe winning actress Angela Bassett) who completes the train of talented stars brought in to play the hard nose boss following the departure of the brilliant Paul McCrane as Dr. Robert “Rocket” Romano in 2003. Though no one was ever able to capture the energy associated with the thoroughly enjoyable son of a bitch that was “Rocket,” Bassett lives up to her resume during stories that are clearly more about the history of the show then present day.
The final season of ER does a surprisingly good job of paying homage to this iconic series as past stars of the show are weaved into storylines which are for the most part well written and entertaining. Yes, the storyline in Episode 19, “Old Times,” which catches us up with Doug Ross (George Clooney) and Carol Hathaway (Julianna Marguilies) is horribly contrived and unfulfilling, but Episode Seven, “Heal Thyself,” does not disappoint as the past and present are brilliantly brought together, allowing the loyal fans to once again bid farewell to the long since deceased Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards).
Though Noah Wyle’s character John Carter is utilized throughout the season to bring the past and present together, and fans are treated to the emotional farewell they crave in the two hour finale “And in the End…” as many of our favorite characters bid an emotional farewell to each other after a night on the town, the season belongs to Scott Grimes as Dr. Archie Morris becomes the well deserved focal point of the ER.
There is no question that over the last years of the show, the gritty reality of an emergency room has been overshadowed by the romantic escapades of the characters, yet it is clear that in the final season, an effort is being made to bring some of the harsh reality back to the show. Unfortunately the method utilized to succeed in the revival of reality in the ER appears to be primarily blood and guts. The need to show open wounds, scalpels cutting into flesh, and pints and pints of blood, comes across more like a director with a new toy then the reality of life in a hospital and is beneath the creativity associated with a series built on cutting edge cinematography, storytelling, and well written-characters.
The featurette “Previously on ER” is entertaining and certainly allows for insight into the show through interviews with its stars, but since it appears to have been completed before the end of Season Fifteen, the portion dedicated to the show's many legendary guest stars fails to acknowledge those checking in during the final 22 episodes, including Louis Gossett Jr., Amy Madigan, and a brilliant performance by Ernest Borgnine, to name a few. The failure of the featurette to acknowledge the supporting players, such as Evette Freeman, who had been with the show through its entire run is unforgiveable.
Recommendation: Obviously a must have for the true fan, though a level of frustration will exist for the collectors since the packaging for Season 14 and 15 differs in size from all the previous releases. The final season of ER displays enough quality television to stand on its own and could easily induce a new patient in the ER to seek out previous case files.