Sunday, April 5, 2009

The End Of An ERa

Like that title? Brilliant, aren't I? What a play on words. That said, please indulge I feel the need to write a little about the series finale of ER. Yes, that ER.

ER debuted in September of 1994, and just to put things in perspective that was just a few months after Kurt Cobain killed himself (which oddly enough, is 15 years today)....the show has been on for-freaking-ever. Part of the original NBC "must-see TV" lineup along with Seinfeld, it's a program for which I've got great fondness, as I watched it throughout my youth. It was intended to be a realistic medical drama (albeit, with a little soap opera style drama thrown in) which focused on the characters and not the medical cases (like, say, House) and I'd suggest that it delivered....a bold proclamation for a show that lasted 15

What seperated ER from the pack though, was the way in which it was filmed. Filmed in a somewhat grainy form with a herky-jerky (yes that's a technical term) camera method that continually followed the action instead of existing with a focal point or three in the room. The camera was always moving, and the action always following with it-proving the point that an ER is a chaotic place-and making the cases (almost) as exciting as, say, the opening scene of 'Saving Private Ryan.' I said almost.

I watched ER live for the first half dozen or so seasons before hitting the meat of High School and then College, a time in my life in which I didn't watch that much TV, especially live TV. As such, I fell off the show's bandwagon always enjoying the odd episode I'd catch but not being up to date. That all changed though when I got a Tivo, and then totally changed when I graduated college and had 4mos unemployed to do nothing but drink beer, play video games, and watch TV (and good god, that was a good 4mos). You see, TNT ran ER re-runs twice a day and in chronological order, allowing an unemployed man with a Tivo little choice but to watch them.....all. And watch them all I did, to the point that I started at the pilot episode and caught alllllll the way up, and have since made it a point to record and watch every episode. And so on thursday, I finally watched the final episode of ER.....having watched every episode previous.

Ending a series is a difficult task. Seinfeld-a show I love-failed miserably at it. Most shows do, as tying up all the loose ends whilst simultaneously trying to give viewers their proverbial last hit off the crack pipe is a difficult thing. In much the same way we think three more Star Wars movies is a good idea, we as television consuming human beings never wants a program to end-no matter how tired it has become. ER had played through every concievable dramatic twist multiple times over the years, and likewise had churned through more characters than you can shake a stick at-a fact I was reminded of as I watched the ER series retrospective which aired previous to the final episode.

Dr. Ross, Dr. Greene, Nurse Hathaway, Dr. Carter, Dr. Benton, Dr. Lewis....that's how it started, more or less. By my count, we've had another 20+ doctors (30+ if you include nurses and staff) enter and exit the show in various ways since 1994. Don't believe me? Off the top of my head I've got Dr. Boulet, Dr. Weaver, Dr. Weaver, Jerry, Frank, Dr. Corday, Dr. Kovac, Lucy, Dr. Del Amico, Dr. Malucci, Dr. Chen, Nurse Lockhart, Dr. Pratt, Dr. Rasgotra, Dr. Gallant, Dr. Barnett, Nurse Taggart, Dr. Morris, Dr. Gates (Uncle Jessie), Dr. Brenner, Dr. Banfield and I'm pretty sure I'm missing a few, to say nothing of the ancillary characters (all four dozen of them).

What started as a medical drama that was apparently rejectd by multiple networks upon it's inception before being given a chance, morphed into a piece of TV cultural Americana, as more actors than you can shake a stick at have filled cameo roles on the show and the characters have gained a place in our TV hearts. Before TV would touch the AIDS/Civil War epidemics in Africa, ER was there with Dr. Carter doing two seasons of mission work with Doctors Without Borders. Likewise they had Dr. Benton's deaf child, Dr. Boulet's life with HIV, Dr. Romano's well known arm lost to a helicopter....I know this all sounds really crazy and soap opera-y......but it was good TV, and while sometimes preachy, it brought issues to the forefront that other programs didnt want to touch.

I was ready for it to end, really I was.....I think I'd made peace with it's incoming finale when Dr. Pratt died-the latest in a long list of characters I'd come around on only to see them meet their maker. But that doesn't mean the quality of the show was lost on me, and the cameos over the past season to sew up the loose ends did little but re-affirm for me the quality of the program. When the last episode faded to black, I felt as though my commitment to the program had been rewarded. I'm sad to see it go, but it was a great run.

And for the record, Dr. Greene was my favorite character.

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