ER (Season 11) – A Review

Gone but not forgotten, ER continues to roll out the DVD releases of the venerable series (and by “venerable” we mean now creaking along, but not so far gone as to put out of its misery). By now, the show is like an old friend that you don’t mind hanging around. We’re used to its familiar rhythms:

-unusual cases: we see an aquarium worker with a live shark latched to him, a blind woman and her guide miniature horse, a college boy with an arrow in his stomach, etc.

-notable guest stars: Ray Liotta (Unlawful Entry, Goodfellas) plays Charlie Metcalf in the episode Time of Death, which played out in real time (the last 44 minutes of Charlie’s life) – garnering him the 2005 Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. Red Buttons returns as Jules “Ruby” Rubadoux, a role he reprises from Season 2, a widower still blaming Carter (Noah Wyle) for his wife’s death.

-cast turnover: Dr. Corday (Alex Kingston) and Chen (Ming-Na) try to balance the rigors of both work and family, with Elizabeth departing in the episode Fear and Chen in Twas the Night. Carter leaves, ostensibly to join Kem (Thandie Newton) in Africa. Ray Barnett (Shane West) joins the cast as a young doctor by day and a rock star by night. Every bit as ridiculous a character as he sounds.

-complicated relationships: Abby (Maura Tierney) has finally realized her dream of becoming a doctor, but her journey is overshadowed by the usual mix of tangled love lives that play such an integral part in ER. Sam (Linda Cardellini) and Luka (Goran Visnjic) continue their shaky relationship. Neela (Parminder Nagra) gets closer to Gallant (Sharif Atkins). And on and on it goes.

We all suffer the pain of our infirmities, our handicaps should remind us of our own weakness. Along with these broken bodies we need to seek cures, seek doctors. Doctors aren’t here to help the healthy, but the sick. People go to doctors because they are perceived to have the knowledge to treat what ails us, yet they are no more healed than the rest of us. They have problems, health or personal or otherwise, and are every bit as wounded. Yet we still go to them, these wounded healers. The thing about wounded healers is that they know what to ask for. They understand the pain so intimately, they know when the pain meds aren’t working. This mission statement is true of all of us: We are not sent to be served but to serve. In the midst of the pain, agony, and infection of life, we encourage one another as a fellow patients and become part of the healing process. Besides, which warriors do you trust: those with clean armor or those who are battle scarred?

We have a love and fascination with our doctors. The medical drama is part of a longstanding tradition and one third of the trinity of television genres: medical shows, legal shows, and police shows. With 6 discs and over 1,000 minutes of episodes, there’s plenty of ER for those in need of a fix.

ER (Season 10) – A Review

Somewhat obsolete in this post-Grey’s Anatomy landscape, it’s hard to remember when ER ruled the medical drama roost. Now that it’s in its last year, and television viewers have to endure the season long good-bye, Season 10 is released on DVD.

Just five years ago, Season 10 was one of those pivotal years if only for the amount of cast turnover during the season. We still have some holdover faces from the original season, Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle), Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) and Jerry Markovic (Abraham Benrubi) and a few nurses to give roots to the series for long time fans. In a lot of ways, ER was Carter’s show, especially once he became the last of the original cast members to hold down the show. This season had the same feel as when David Duchovney decided to only do half the episodes of a season of X-Files before actually calling it quits, leaving the show limping along rather than just folding up.

This season introduced the characters of nurse Samantha Taggart (Linda Cardellini), Dr. Neela Rasgotra (Parminder Nagra), and Dr. Archie Morris (Scott Grimes). Because of the nature of it sprawling cast, the show left some characters with not much to do and thus nowhere to go except leave. This partially explains the departure of Dr. Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston), though Dr. Romano (Paul McCrane) was killed off as a punchline (reminiscent of when L.A. Law used an elevator shaft to get rid of Rosalind Shays).

“I wanted to feel like I was really doing something.” –Carter

ER revolves around workplace dynamics and relationships. The drama realizes that real life comes down to relationships, both those among the staff as well as with and around their patients. Relationships are messy, but they also are only part of what it means to become fully human. Despite the hospital heroics (and, mind you, why anyone would choose to ever go to a hospital that features so many disasters happening to and within it, no one quite explains), this is life in the ordinary. Like many of us, they’re going through the motions, stuck in empty patterns, too often characterized by this sense of an unfulfilled existence. It leads some to find peace, redemption, and purpose by getting perspective in Africa. For some, it’s simply a matter of getting outside of their own heads, drawing on a sense of a bigger mission: the calling of being a doctor or healer.

“I couldn’t believe in a God that would allow such things to happen … It’s really hard to feel the Holy Spirit’s presence on a day like today.” –Kovac

Reconciliation is not a human quality. God’s mission, reconciling humanity to Himself, was His initiative. In response to this, the Christian church should be a community of people who refuse to be content with human pain and suffering. We are the answer to the problem of evil. We are the ones who believe in a gospel of liberation. We need to accept our new existence as agents of reconciliation

Doctors and nurses do it because invest themselves sacrificially in the lives of others. They do it, largely without thanks, because they are crusaders in their own way, using medicine as their sword, working in the trenches of man’s inhumanity to man, day after day, without any rounds of applause. They join in God’s mission to be a blessing to the world. That is what redemption is all about. Bring reconciliation and healing to this world by being God’s hands.

“It’s simpler here. People need help, I can help.” –Carter

ER manages to retain its air of preachiness as relevance, some episodes feeling like a series of “one to grow” on moments. The show’s strength and weakness has always been the chemistry between the (hopefully interesting) characters, like the eventual dynamic between Dr. Gregory Pratt (Mekhi Pfifer) and Morris. With season 10, we have a lion in winter. Too bad we have to see this once venerable show limp along for another five years.

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