Friday, April 3, 2009

ER Ends Softly

There is more than one good way to end a television series. One of my favorites is the camera pulls back, our characters recede, and we take our leave of them, along with the irresistible impression that they are continuing their lives and business as usual, lives and work which we have been privileged to see. The last scene of Star Trek: The Next Generation did a great job of that, with the camera pulling away from Picard and his top officers playing cards around a table. ER did that last night with John Carter and newer characters responding to an all-out out emergency...

ER started much the same way in 1994, except John Carter was just a med student back then. The series was immediately appealing, with its multiple stories and criss-crossing, fast-moving camera trajectories. This was a new mode of story telling on television, and, actually, still is.

The intense linear story lines of the Sopranos, the Wire and 24, the incredible, compelling complexities of Lost and Battlestar Galactica, the idiosyncratic brilliance of House and Bones - what I've been calling the new golden age of television drama - blew by ER, and left it spinning like a top...

Except, ER was already spinning, with a pace and style all of its own, from the very beginning. The doctors and students all jockeying for position, but all devoted to saving lives ... drinking in and pumping out adrenalin ... and you never knew exactly when the door would swing open with another life-and-death emergency, except you knew that it surely would.

I wrote here several weeks ago how good it was to see Doug Ross (George Clooney) and Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies), Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle), John Carter (Noah Wylie), and lots of the original nursing staff back for an episode. Benton and Carter were back again last night, as well as Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield), Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes), and Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston). It was also heartwarming to see Mark Greene's daughter Rachel (Hallee Hirsh), now in her 20s, seeking to join the ER team, picking up for her late father, and poised to pick up the John Carter role as medical student. The eternal cycle continues. John Wells, executive producer - show runner - of the series since its beginning, wrote both episodes.

The two-hour finale will air again on NBC this Saturday - well worth seeing if you've ever been a fan of the show. A last chance to see the life-savers outside of Chicago County General, as the ambulances swoop in, and the scene moves one last time from the pace on the screen to the soft recesses of our memories.

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