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.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Jane (Austen) Book Club*

Recently I have been rereading Jane Eyre. I didn’t think I would get as far as I have, but I am now about halfway and still eager to continue. Jane Eyre is another book that I was introduced to in an English class. Although I had been thinking that I should read it again, I thought that if I did pick it up, I would lose interest within the first few chapters, or even the first few pages. Here’s a test for you: Take a book you’ve read because you had to (usually from an English class, at least for me) and read it again when you don’t have to. Do you still like it? Or, if you didn’t like it before, do you like it now? This was probably my main motivation for reading Jane Eyre again--to see if I actually liked it.

And I am pleased to say that, yes, I do like Jane Eyre. In fact, I would say that in some ways Jane Eyre is superior to that other famous Jane of English literature, Jane Austen, which I know is a blasphemous statement to all the hopeless romantics of the world. Sorry about that. I like Jane Austen, but she isn’t perfect.

For one thing, the description in Jane Eyre is much stronger than any comparative text in an Austen novel. Its tone and atmosphere is vivid and distinct. Description has always been one of Austen’s weak points for me. Rather, Austen’s novels thrive on dialogue, and her stories and characters are merely used as illustrations of the specific concepts being discussed, such as pride, prejudice, sense or sensibility.

Perhaps the Austen novel that is the best comparison for Jane Eyre is Emma, which also happens to be my favorite of Austen’s books, because both are essentially well written character studies. It’s no surprise that both novels are named after their main characters. To Austen’s advantage, she has, in Emma Woodhouse, created a character who is not restricted by her need for wealth, which takes the novel’s focus somewhat off marriage. This is, I think, what allows the story to examine a character rather than an issue, just as Jane Eyre does. But these books also show how Austen and Eyre are different. Eyre is much darker in imagery and tone, gothic, and bleak. Austen’s tone is more comedic and, of course, romantic.

But that’s not to say that Jane Eyre isn’t a love story. It is. Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester make an intriguing couple, and I enjoy seeing their relationship develop throughout the story. But romance, I must say, is where Austen excels beyond Bronte. No one tells a love story like Austen does, and she has done it time and time again in several novels, not just one.

Each Jane has her strengths and weaknesses, and I admit that I can’t seem to choose one over the other, but the beauty of it is, do I have to?

*I have never read The Jane Austen Book Club, so I couldn’t tell you if you should read it or not, but the movie was pretty good.