Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Long Way From Chicago*

I’ve been watching a lot of ER episodes lately, buying the DVD sets and watching the seasons straight through. (But not in order, as usual. I bought season 8 first. On sale. See my blog entry “The Long Winter.”) I grew up with this show, but it was not until this year, when the show ended after 15 seasons, that I truly began to appreciate just how much of an impact the show has had on me.

The first ER episode I ever saw was “Hell and High Water” from season 2 (i.e. the one where Doug Ross saves a boy from a storm drain). That episode has remained my all-time favorite episode of the series ever since, and not because I’m a George Clooney fan. In fact, I’m not really a George Clooney fan aside from his work on ER. You have to admit, though, that “Hell and High Water” did make George Clooney a movie star. Perhaps what’s so brilliant about that episode is that it feels like a full-blown movie production instead of a TV show. And they did it in one hour. It wasn’t a two-parter with a clever cliffhanger or a big-bang season finale. It was near the start of the season. In TV terms, such a big show was most likely unexpected, in a good way. It was the first ER episode filmed outside the ER, and for that it was a big step forward for the show. But probably the biggest reason I love that episode so much is because it is my first ER memory.

Some of my favorite episodes include:

-“Blizzard” and “The Gift” (Season 1, episodes 9 and 10): the quintessential Christmas episodes of the series; great to watch back to back; plus, Rosemary Clooney sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" :)

-”Love’s Labor Lost” (Season 1, episode 18): a defining episode for Mark Greene as he tries to save a woman in the middle of a difficult labor and her baby; guest: Bradley Whitford

-”Hell and High Water” (Season 2, episode 7): see above

-”The Long Way Around (Season 3, episode 15) and “Great Expectations” (Season 6, episode 8): two great Carol Hathaway episodes; in "The Long Way Around," Carol finds herself in the middle of a convenience store robbery (guest: Ewan McGregor), and in "Great Expectations," she gives birth to her twins.

-”Exodus” (Season 4, episode 15): great John Carter episode, where he takes charge of the ER after a chemical spill. Carter is my favorite character.

-”Such Sweet Sorrow” (Season 6, episode 21): Doug and Carol reunite for good

In truth, I quit watching the show regularly after the eighth season. I would have been satisfied if the show had ended at the death of Mark Greene. By then, all of the characters I cared about were either gone and/or resolved enough story-wise for me to let it be. Mark Greene had lived a good life; Doug and Carol were finally together; Benton found a stable family life; Susan Lewis was back at work, like old times; and John Carter had gone from med student to mentor. In other words, all of the original characters had come full circle, and as for the other characters (i.e. Weaver, Corday, Romano, Abby, Kovac, and Chen), it was easy for me to imagine that they would simply carry on. I admire its longevity, even if the show may have gone on a little too long. It was nice to see some of the old cast members come back for a few episodes in its last season anyway. It almost makes me regret dismissing the show for the last 7 years.

When it was announced that ER would be ending after 15 years, I couldn’t help but step back and think, “It’s been fifteen years?” That means I’ve only really been following the show for a little over half its run. But in that interim, even when I wasn’t watching, ER was there, you know? I took it for granted that it would always be on TV, and then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. Fifteen years? Needless to say, ER changed a lot over 15 years, and so did I. Both of us have come a long way from that first show. I think I’m bound to remember ER if only because it was one constant during the pivotal years of my life--the growing-up years. It’s funny to think that the show has existed through my adolescent to college, and now post-college years.

Maybe I have nothing to worry about. There may not be anymore new episodes, but that doesn’t mean it won’t always be on TV, or DVD. I just have to learn not to take it for granted. The Chicago-reality on ER may be a long way from the Chicago that actually exists, but for awhile, even in reruns, I am swept up by the story, caught up in the characters. For an hour at least.

*A Long Way From Chicago is one of several young adult novels by Richard Peck. It also has a sequel called A Year Down Yonder.

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