|ER - The Complete First Season|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 26 August 2003|
That show is “E.R.” and, during the last 10 years, the series has become a benchmark for television. Several television experts comment that “E.R.” has done for the viewing public in the 1990s what “L. A. Law” did for the viewing public in the 1980s. The show has brought the viewers into the volatile world of medicine, especially what happens in big city emergency rooms like those in Chicago, Illinois, where “E.R.” takes place.
The series is currently in its tenth year and still stands tall as a commanding presence each television season. In the beginning year, pretty much as in the successive years, “E.R.” derives its success from equal parts medical challenges and an interesting, multifaceted cast of characters with problems that are real and continue to evolve out of their efforts to change their lives.
During the course of the first season presented in this DVD collection, viewers are introduced to Chief Resident Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) and his problems with juggling his love for the emergency room with his love for his wife and young daughter. Dr. Doug Ross (George Clooney), the pediatrician with a flair for kids who exhibits kid-like tendencies himself when it comes to relationships, carries a torch for Nurse Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies), an old flame who is now involved with another doctor but is conflicted in her feelings. Dr. Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle) comes on strong as a can-do guy who wants to be the world’s best surgeon and is only waiting for the moment to prove himself, but in the meantime he’s neglecting his family. Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) tries to balance her attraction to the very married Dr. Greene, her present relationship with psych doctor Div Cvetic (John Terry), who is on the verge of a mental breakdown, and her volatile sister Chloe (Kathleen Wilhoite) who is a drug user and doesn’t hesitate to steal from her sister. First-year medical intern John Carter (Noah Wyle) struggles as he learns more about medicine and the world, interacting primarily with Benton but getting to know all the rest of the hospital staff as well.
In the “Pilot” episode on the disc, the story begins in Chapter 1 with Dr. Mark Greene getting called out of a sound sleep by a nurse. The script quickly reveals that residents at this particular hospital pull 36 hours on, then 18 hours off. When Greene is called to attend, Ross, who has come in drunk, stumbles through the hospital and the surround sound pumps out an onslaught of music from radios and the clatter of people working all around the viewer. Back up at 6:30 in Chapter 2, Greene hears about a building collapse and learns that a number of injured people are about to flood the hospital. For the first time, the clatter of gurney wheels rolling into the hospital fills the surround sound system. That sound becomes one of the staples of the show, along with the myriad beeps and buzzes of the equipment. Ross joins in the attempt to handle everything, and throbbing music pounds the subwoofer as the action picks up the pace. In 11 frantic, hard-hitting moments, the pilot episode has established several of the regular players, as well as set the tone for the action that fills the series. Chapter 3 introduces Greene’s wife and the potential problems with that relationship. Chapter 4 introduces new, young and inexperienced intern Carter, who is quickly put to the test in Chapter 5 as he’s given the assignment of stitching all lacerations that come in that day. The priceless moment of the patient realizing that she is very probably the first patient Carter has handled elicits humor as well as drama. Chapter 6 shows the birth of the first baby on the show, a feat that is a repetitive favorite. In Chapter 8, Lewis has to tell a man he’s got terminal cancer while the day outside the building has turned to thunder and rain that echoes throughout the surround sound system. Chapter 10 steps up the tension as Hathaway, one of the e.r.’s main nurses, is brought in as a suicide attempt. In Chapter 13, Benton moves a case up into the OR and operates for the first time, coming out strong and confident and awe-inspiring.
In “Day One,” a baby in respiratory arrest kicks off the thundering subwoofer and the opening credits in Chapter 1, spiking the surround sound system as well as the viewer’s interest. Chapter 2 gives the viewer the first look at the emergency medical helicopters as their thunderous rotor wash fills the surround sound system and thumps the subwoofer. The victims include a family who were struck by a drunk driver. Greene talks to Ross on the rooftop in Chapter 3 and the sounds of the city plays around them on the surround sound. Chapter 4 introduces the return of a young woman who is constantly in the hospital trying to put the make on doctors. In Chapter 5 at Greene’s house, the elevated train rushes by from left to right, sounding like it’s right on top of the viewer.
“Going Home” opens with a confused woman singing in Benton’s ear and waking him. During the early episodes of the series, one doctor or another is always being awakened from one of the empty rooms in the hospital. Carol Hathaway, the nurse who tried to commit suicide in the pilot episode, makes the decision to return to the hospital. Her struggle to come to terms with her own fears as well as Ross’ feelings of guilt over his part in her attempt makes for compelling storytelling. The episode kicks into high gear when the ambulance sirens rip through the surround sound system. The crunch of wheelchair tires rolling through the hallways surrounds the viewer, making us feel as though we’re standing in the middle of the hallway. Chapter 2 shows Benton passing the disoriented woman off to Carter, who discovers feelings of compassion he didn’t know he had. In Chapter 3, Greene deals with a battered wife while phones ring incessantly in the background, creating the feeling of uncaring reality that the world sometimes shows even when people are dealing with the hardest problems in their lives. The helicopter arrival in Chapter 4 thumps through the surround sound system, triggering heavy bass input from the subwoofer. Chapter 5 brings about the return of patients who have arcs throughout the first year: Ivan the liquor store owner, who makes a habit of getting shot, as well as Liz, a nymphomaniac who has a thing for doctors.
The opening sequence of “Hit and Run” jars the viewer, offering a curveball as Ross tests the hearing of a small boy whose mother insists that he can’t always hear voices. As it turns out, the mother has mental problems and hears dead people. In Chapter 2, the e.r. arrival doors explode inward as the ambulance crew rolls in with another victim, a high school boy who was hit by a car that left the scene. The gurney wheels rolling through the hallway has become a staple of the series by this time, as well as the grim beeping and buzzing of the hospital equipment, but the flat-line sound of death is new. Carter is in shock as the e.r. loses its first patient while he is in attendance. Lewis deals with a salesman who can’t leave the office or the need to make the next deal behind, and who sports a new, powerful phone that causes problems in the hospital. Carter, assigned the task of identifying the dead boy through a high school yearbook, gets the boy’s name wrong and causes all kinds of grief for himself as well as two sets of parents. Telling the real set of parents becomes even more traumatic. In a turn toward the humorous in Chapter 4, an older man is brought in handcuffed to a naked young woman who turns out to be the secretary of the guy’s wife, which spins the story into a sad one filled with guilt over getting a chuckle out of the situation.
“Into That Good Night” is a strong episode involving the impending death of a man with a defective heart, and his grace and sorrow over the event as he struggles to hang on. His story parallels what Greene is going through in his personal life, reminding the doctor of what he stands to lose and what he is missing out on every day. The ambulance sounds and excited voices in Chapter 1 grabs the viewer’s interest and maintains a stranglehold till the final moment of the episode. This episode also really is the first to use the sweep of the camera following key characters through the hospital to change storylines and points of view, cutting back and forth between the different e.r. trauma centers as two victims are worked on at the same time.
A beeper going off in Chapter 1 plunges the “Chicago Heat” episode into motion. Greene, at home with his daughter while his wife is working in Milwaukee, gets called in to work. When the babysitter doesn’t arrive, he has no choice but to take his daughter to work with him, providing a dramatic counterpoint to what he sees every day. Only moments later, a pizza driver who has been stabbed drives through the e.r.’s front doors, showcasing the staff’s ability to deal with anything. In Chapter 2, Ross handles a case involving a little girl who turns out to be the victim of cocaine poisoning, requiring him to do some deep thinking on what he’s supposed to do and how limited he is in his actions. The scene in Chapter 3 between the two young girls talking amid the beeping and buzzing of the machines, engaging in real kid talk about what’s going on, is absolutely amazing and dead-on. Rachel, Greene’s daughter, sees Benton using the chest spreader and her eyes are wide with innocence. Her scene later with Benton about the boy’s death is touching, one of the hallmarks of “E.R.”
Patrick, another guest regular in the first season, gets introduced in Chapter 1 of “Another Perfect Day.” Carter learns about how to find an apartment by keeping track of patients who die and waiting for their residences to become available for new renters in Chapter 2. The traffic noise surrounding the rooftop conversation lends an air of authenticity and riffs through the surround sound system. The conversation between Green and Jenn, his wife, in Chapter 4 is surrounded by street noise as well, underscoring the fact that no matter what is going on between the people in a scene, life continues on relentlessly.
“9 Hours” is the first episode that doesn’t open up with one of the doctors being woken from a sound sleep. Hathaway has to deal with a rape victim who exhibits suicidal tendencies, pinging her own personal demons. The ambulance arrival and the gurney smashing through the door in Chapter 2 kicks the episode into high gear.
“E.R. Confidential” opens with Lewis’ lover, Dr. Cvetic, performing a psych evaluation on himself that is haunting. Benton’s mother arrives with a sprained ankle and she invites Carter to Thanksgiving in Chapter 2 as a transvestite traffic accident victim arrives. Benton leaves Carter in the lurch and Carter has to deal with the transvestite by himself, an uncomfortable situation because the transvestite wants to talk about everything. Chapter 3’s jumper scene traumatizes the viewer as well as Carter because it’s so sudden.
“Blizzard” opens up so innocently that the viewer is taken unaware by the explosion of violence that opens up Chapter 3. Until that point, the staff goofs off, playing swivel chair basketball, one of them rollerblading through the hallways, and generally killing time. Chapter 2 brings the announcement of a 41-car pile-up that involves burn victims, amputations and DOAs. The lull before the storm of activity that starts with the arrival of the victims in Chapter 3 is harsh. A really nice touch comes when one of the nurses sings to a scared, crying baby. All of the other sounds in the scene are leached away until only the a cappella song comes through the surround sound system. New characters are introduced in a brief spotlight, then added right into the mix of action.
In “The Gift,” Benton has to deal with the fallout of announcing the availability of donor organs before he gets the family’s permission. Lewis’ life turns even more challenging when her lover, Cvetic, quits his job without notice and fades away without a word. Her sister Chloe, who is a drug addict and thief who has stolen from Lewis before, turns up pregnant and requiring a lot of help.
Chloe’s story continues in “Happy New Year.” After everything Lewis has done for her to help get her settled, Chloe decides to move to Texas with her current boyfriend. At the same time, Dr. Kayson, who has been a royal pain for some time, comes after Lewis with a vengeance.
“Luck of the Draw” introduces Deb Chen (Ming-Na Wen), a new med student who suddenly becomes competitive with Carter. Carter really feels bummed when his mentor Dr. Benton becomes the one who trains her. Hathaway, always at her best in emotionally charged situations because of her own volatile nature in the past, shines when she deals with a patient fascinated by colors. Benton’s mother goes missing and he ends up in a crossfire of guilt and blame dealing with his own inability to spend time with his family.
“Long Day’s Journey” introduces a new love interest for Ross who will carry throughout several episodes, again playing to the series’ strength because the stories come across as real and organic. Lewis gets some of her prestige and dignity back after dealing with Kayson and the charges he’s filed against her when Kayson ends up as a patient under her care.
“February 5, ‘95” becomes a red-letter day in Greene’s career when he’s asked to join the hospital staff. At the same time, one of his latest patients is a breast cancer victim who does all she can to convince him to kill her. Getting back to the infighting that goes on at a big hospital, the e.r. gets new crash carts that the cardiology department appropriates, initiating a lot of harsh feelings.
Tatiana, a parentless infant, is introduced in “Make of Two Hearts” and sets off a storyline that spans a few episodes and creates a major conflict for Carol and her fiancé Tag (Rick Rossovich).
The conflict over Tatiana continues in “The Birthday Party,” as Carol and Tag continue to argue over Carol’s feelings for the little girl. Carol lets Tag know that she wants to adopt Tatiana. Ross has to deal with an abusive father and ends up hitting the guy, something that doesn’t really happen often, if at all, in real life but is definitely gratifying to watch on television. Greene’s job offer isn’t enough to keep Jenn from accepting a position in Milwaukee, which will keep the Greene family separated even more.
Jenn tells Greene she wants to separate from him in “Sleepless in Chicago,” an episode that focuses on the personal problems in the hospital. Benton’s mother undergoes a medical problem while he’s sleeping when he’s supposed to be watching her.
“Love’s Labor Lost” won Emmy awards for writing and directing, as well as others. After making a mistake on the treatment of a woman in labor, Greene enlists the aid or the other staff to try to save her life and the life of her unborn child.
“Full Moon, Saturday Night” shows Greene dealing with the fallout over the loss of his patient in the last episode. Benton’s mother takes a turn for the worse and he deals with his own guilt as well as his family’s blame. The full moon brings in accident victim after accident victim to the hospital, making this one of the more fast-paced episodes.
Carter and Deb Chen’s rivalry steps up the pace in “House of Cards.” As a result, Deb makes a mistake in a diagnosis that almost kills a patient. Greene’s handling of a previous case is examined for medical malpractice possibilities. Lewis’ life turns complicated again when her sister Chloe returns with still more problems.
“Men Plan, God Laughs” continues the Chloe/Lewis thread as Lewis deals with her pregnant sister. Ross deepens his relationship with Diane Leeds by agreeing to coach her son’s Little League team, which showcases Ross as a character. Dealing with kids or getting self-destructive is really Ross at his best.
“Love Among the Ruins” focuses on Greene and Jenn as they struggle to stay together. Greene moves in with her in Milwaukee, but the stress doesn’t go away. Working on their wedding vows, Carol and Tag end up at each other’s throats when Tag finds out that Carol has invited Diane, who is dating Ross. The mystery of what happened to Div Cvetic gets answered even as Lewis reaches her wit’s end on what to do with her sister, Chloe.
“Motherhood” deals with the birth of Chloe’s baby and how that event affects Lewis’ life. Ross gets blown away when Diane suggests they move in together, triggering the same kind of fear in him that the relationship with Carol did. Returning to his self-destructive ways, Ross ends up with an old flame and destroys the relationship he has been enjoying up to this point. Benton loses his mother and has to deal with all the guilt he feels at not having been there enough for her.
“Everything Old Is New Again” focuses on Carol and Tag’s wedding. Carter rips into Benton after a disappointment. Lewis finds herself truly a mother when Chloe abandons the baby with her sister. One of the best scenes in the episode is Ross having to face Diane’s son and own up to his part in the destruction of that relationship.
“E.R.: The Complete First Season” is a fantastic DVD buy for someone who has not seen those episodes. A viewer who has heard about “E.R.” but has never watched the show will benefit greatly from this relatively inexpensive addition to the home library. Rather than playing like separate episodes, the storytelling actually comes across as one really long, really good novel. Of course, that novel is only the first of what so far is an epic 10 volumes long, because it ends in a cliffhanger. All of the episodes were filmed in widescreen, although they weren’t presented that way on television for a few years.
However, for the television aficionado hoping to get more bang for the investment buck than just good copies of a favorite television show, “E.R.: The First Season” doesn’t offer much in the way of extras. Only three episodes have commentary on them, which are compelling and informative, but barely cuts the surface of what could have been offered. Another somewhat disheartening aspect of the set is that the episodes are presented on both sides of the discs, leaving no room for the colorful top copy that is given on most DVD collections. Maybe for some collectors the packaging and the extras are low-impact and skimpy, but “E.R.: The Complete First Season” still presents some of the most compelling drama on television.