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Friday, April 3, 2009

Commercial Interruption: Life goes on at County General even after "ER"

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email, of course — we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). Bloggers Malavika Jagannathan and Sara Boyd put on their scrubs and pull out their verbal scalpels to dissect the series finale of "ER." After 15 seasons, it's hard to top what the show has already done, so writers went for less retrospection and more action. The two-hour episode was classic "ER" -- chaotic and heartfelt with a dash of nostalgia thrown in -- but did it hit its mark?

Malavika: Now I don't want to brag or anything, but I accurately predicted the ending of "ER" in my post yesterday when I wrote I'd be happy "if they ended in the middle of a major medical trauma with the camera zooming out through the ER doors one last time." Which is exactly what happened. Powers of psychic ability aside, though, I was pretty thrilled. When the last shot zoomed out to show the entire hospital for the first time, it felt right. There wasn't anything special about the "ER" finale -- no freak accidents or shooting sprees -- and I liked this feeling of enduring continuity. Not to get all high school English teacher here, but "ER" has always been about the circle of life and death, that even as people die or leave, life goes on and we endure. Even the title of the last episode "And in the end..." echoed that theme, so there was no better way to end the show by letting us go even as the doctors and nurses continued to work.

Of course, it wasn't all business as usual, either, as old characters made appearances for one final hurrah. We saw Mark Greene's daughter Rachel show up as a prosopective med student (I always figured she'd show up in the ER one day, but most likely as a patient... whoops... I guess people do grow up). Doctors Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield), Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes), Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle) and Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston) all showed up for the opening of Dr. Carter's (Noah Wyle) family inheritance-funded medical center for the underserved. Even Benton's deaf son Reese made an appearance. Of course, I was hoping for a few more cameos -- most notably missing from this parade of former characters was Goran Visnjic as Dr. Luka Kovac -- but I guess it would be somewhat unrealistic if every former character popped up in Chicago on the same day.

Did the ending work for you, Sara?

Sara: I'll be honest, that "ER" prediction was so accurate I think you should begin a new segment called "MJ's Melodramatic Mindreadings." Spooky.

And yes, the ending worked for me. Even though my "ER" viewing span dwindled in the last few years -- I'll be honest when Dr. Kovac was gone so was most of my interest -- I always knew picking the show back up would be relatively easy. It's a standard set-up and a successful standard set-up, at that. Last night's finale was in perfect pitch with what the show has been for 15 years. It was an episode that could've easily been any other Thursday night at County. And really, to truly respect its fans, that's what it needed to be. The beauty of "ER" is that no matter what the plot, no matter what the drama -- you'll get some excitement, some suspense and perhaps the best part, you'll get some kind of emotional connection.

Call me a sap, but that's what I think makes the show work. It goes beyond the trauma rooms, operating tables and waiting lounges and makes you feel something, not only for the doctors, but the short-lived characters that are the crux of the story: the patients. Even with last night's episode, while squeezing in the necessary reunion, you still had the elderly man and his wife, the newborn twins and the man dying of cancer. It's just as Malavika put it -- life goes on, even after a show must come to an end.

So MJ, with so many previous characters coming back, was a part of you like me -- waiting to see if Dr. Doug Ross (George Clooney) showed up?

Malavika: I would be lying if I said I hadn't been looking for another Clooney cameo, even thought the chances of it happening were pretty slim.

Since I have Dr. Ross on mind -- mmmm, let's take a moment here -- I have to give the writers some major props for bringing him back subtly into the storyline a few episodes ago. Instead of making a flashy, dramatic comeback, we saw him in Seattle, working with Nurse Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies) to get a grieving grandmother (Susan Sarandon) to give her grandson's organs for donation, both not realizing that the kidney they're sending to Chicago will go to help their friend Carter. "ER" has always been an ensemble drama, so even a star like Clooney -- or a guest star like Sarandon -- are only bits and pieces of the big picture.

I thought Sara brought up a great point that "ER" makes memorable characters of even the shortlived appearances of the patients. For the hour or so, you get sucked into the lives of people you have no reason to care about and the show stayed true to this formula to the end.

Sara: The only thing I could add is that even though we didn't get to see Dr. Ross one last time, the finale did something really important within its characters -- it set itself up to continue the cycle. Just as we all remember watching a fresh-faced Dr. Carter deal with emotions far beyond his medical experience, we got to see the full circle last night with Alexis Bledel's med student character. It didn't try to push a phony dramatic ending where life at County stops because we're not there to watch it anymore. Instead, it started another chapter.

Malavika: At first, I was thinking, man, wouldn't it have been great to have Alexis Bledel ("Gilmore Girls") for the entire season as intern Julia Wise? But I think bookending the show with Carter's first day and her first day wraps up the show quite nicely, as Sara suggested, and gives a continuity to the show that'll last beyond us watching it. On that note, here's a clip from Season 1 when Carter first shows up in the "ER." Seems like a good way for us to end this post.

Editor's note: The series finale of "ER" snagged 16.5 million viewers last night, which is the highest rated series finale for a drama since... wait, for it, "Murder She Wrote" in 1996.

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Melodramatic predictions? You should be a writer for the famous satire website!

By Anonymous Bradshaw Banks, At April 6, 2009 at 9:51 AM  

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