Revisiting the early seasons of the hit show 'ER'

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Long before the current wave of drama-filled television, NBC's ER paved the way for the well-crafted serialized story. On network t.v., nonetheless.

Pundits and fans, over the years, have pointed to HBO's The Sopranos as the show that spawned a golden age of drama themed shows on television.

David Chase--creator of The Sopranos--knocked it out of the park with his show, but it was ER, the 15-season, 331-episode series on NBC that laid the foundation for the glory to come. 

ER, created by Michael Crichton, was a staple of NBC's Thursday night lineup throughout the 1990's. Along with the likes of Seinfeld and Friends--to name a few--ER's character driven, story-focused episodes helped make Thursday nights on NBC "must-see-t.v."

Throughout the 90's, I was along for the ride. The travails of Dr. Ross (George Clooney), Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards), Dr. Benton (Eric La Salle), Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle), and Nurse Hathaway (Julianna Margulies)--among others--kept viewers tuned in every week to see where their stories traveled to.

The show also gave guest stars roles to William H. Macy, Ron Eldard, Kirsten Dunst, Rosemary Clooney, Ewan McGregor (in a great episode), and Omar Epps to name a few. (The list could literally go on and on; the same can be said for people who portrayed the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff throughout the show's run.)

Catching up in syndication

In March, I began watching re-runs of ER on the Pop channel (formerly the t.v. guide channel, now home to such stars as Joey Mcintyre and Eugene Levy). In re-watching the early seasons, I'd forgotten how entertaining and engaging the episodes were. Part of this can be attributed, on original viewing, that I was 15 when the series started and, by the late 90's, my devotion to the show had waned to the fact that I was in college, had a job, was involved in theater productions, and was generally living as a 21-year old enjoying the plethora of spirits involved in a busy night life.

And of course, Clooney left the show in 1999. The man who made women swoon and men copy his "Caesar haircut" (or "the Clooney") found super stardom because of the show. (I myself had "the Clooney" cut for a short time. I looked less like George Clooney and more like the 21-year old "boy" who barely had to shave once a month. Plus, I lacked the smoldering looks he often gave.)

I digress. ER in those early seasons tackled issues such as HIV, alcoholism, racism, depression, lack of marital bliss, love, and suicide. Suicide was especially prevalent--the very first episode saw nurse Hathaway's suicide attempt--and was a topic discussed heavily in those early seasons. It ranged in story lines from Dr. Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) and her psychiatrist boyfriend's depression to the possible suicide of Dr. Gant (Epps) in season three.

Stories were well told, providing character depth and plenty of time to grow. We saw the characters wage battles against addiction (Dr. Carter; he won) and Dr. 'Rocket' Romano (Paul McCrane) battle helicopters. (He lost twice. First, his arm. In a later season, his life.) Despite a large cast, the writers found time to create story and character arcs for the majority of the characters. (Something The Walking Dead could take note of.)

Clooney, of course, was the castmember who's stock skyrocketed. He'd been earmarked for fame since his days on the set of Roseanne. Many of my favorite episodes revolved around stories involving Dr. Ross, one of which I happened to catch the other day.

Fathers and sons

This episode took place in season four and was a stand alone episode focusing on only Dr. Ross and Dr. Greene. Two best friends traveling to Barstow to not only bury the father of Dr. Ross, but to repair a friendship that had broken over the first part of the season.

The show delves into the lives of these two, a friendship that had been fractured over the season's first six episodes thanks to Dr. Greene's life spiral. (One that culminated in him getting attacked in the e.r.'s bathroom by at the time an unknown assailant.)

While Dr. Ross gathers information to find out about his estranged father's last days, Dr. Greene makes a trip to see his own parents in San Diego. We get to see his relationship with his own father A relationship that, despite having a father who was present in his life, is not so different than the relationship Dr. Ross had with his own father, who was hardly ever there.

This little bit of information can only do the entire episode so much justice. It was an episode, that by the end, found my eyes sweating tiny drops of liquid. 

Episodes of ER had that affect on me over the years. If you've have never seen the show, do yourself a favor and add it your list today. Or re-watch it to see for yourself. Even if it's the first five seasons, you'll be happy you did.


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