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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Post-Clooney 'ER' still shows vital signs

It starts around 3:00 on Thursday afternoon. I receive a blitz reminding me what day of the week it is, and suddenly a bad day becomes good, and a good day becomes even better. Although I am in constant need of reminders along these lines, that is not why I and many others across campus and the country are so excited. To us, Thursdays are synonymous with "ER," and that means one hour of guaranteed quality entertainment.

Initially intriguing because of its innovative setting and the quality performances of a previously unknown cast, "ER" remains one of the finest shows on television today. In its four years on the air, the emergency room drama has amassed 12 Emmys, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, inspired many copycat series and remained the top-rated television drama for each of its four seasons. So what is it about ER that merits so much critical and popular attention?

Since its premiere in 1995, the show has delivered some of the most gripping, graphic, intelligent story lines in dramatic television. The emergency-room setting demands a constant influx of guest stars and minor characters. Some of the most memorable have been Kirsten Dundst as a runaway teen, Ewan McGregor as an injured criminal forced to take hostages and Omar Epps as the struggling medical student driven to suicide.

But it is the relationships and problems of the five characters who have been with the show since day one that really drive the program and keep the viewers hooked. Although the relationships sometimes exhibit a painfully soap opera-like quality, it is that same dramatic aspect that keeps us watching from week to week. Will Mark be able to save his marriage? Can Benton ever care about anyone other than himself? Will Carol and Doug ever get together/ stay together/ get back together/ get married/ get pregnant? Will Carter please get rid of that awful facial hair?

This season has been particularly interesting with the exit of pediatrician playboy Doug Ross (George Clooney). The relationship between Dr. Ross and Nurse Carol Hathaway (Juliana Margulies) has been the driving force of the show since the first episode when Carol tried to commit suicide.

With Ross gone, Hathaway is not nearly as interesting of a character. Her whole life has revolved around their relationship and although her refusal to leave with him makes her much more intriguing, the lack of their relationship is a real blow to the show.

It was impossible not to root for Dr. Ross. He was a passionate character who put all of himself into everything he did. He always had the patient's best interest in mind, and that landed him in a lot of trouble.

Whether he was beating up child abusers in the waiting room or using risky and unapproved methods of rapid detox to save a child from methadone addiction, the audience was always on his side. It will be hard for the series to continue without him, but I thought the same thing when Sherry Stringfield left, and the show has been going strong ever since.

Although "ER" has many characters you can't help loving, the best part of the show is the plethora of characters you love to hate.

For the first season Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle) filled that role. As the egotistical, self-centered surgeon, he didn't seem human even when he was dealing with his mother's death. He made John Carter's (Noah Wyle) life a living hell and he drove one med student to suicide. But this season the writers have gone to great lengths to make Benton human. In the "Dr. Benton Medicine Woman" episode he shows surprising compassion when he gives up his free time to go work in a small town in the middle of nowhere to earn money for his child's hearing aid and savings fund.

Not only is Dr. Benton going soft, he is soon to be going solo. On a recent appearance on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," La Salle refused to comment regarding the extension of his contract and alluded to the fact that both he and Margulies will probably leave after next season. So look for some of the previously minor characters to start taking some major roles.

There won't be any new episodes until May, but then they'll be pulling out all the stops for sweeps. With so many major characters leaving, the show's future is looking a little shaky, but for now I'm just going to enjoy it while it lasts.