Post-Clooney `ER' gets back to normal
By MICHAEL VANEGAS
It's Thursday night. Do you know where your doctor is?
If you need serious medical attention, maybe the answer to this question is rather important.
If not, then all you have to do is switch to NBC and watch the good doctors and nurses from "ER" strut their stuff and tend to their heart-reviving stunts in the emergency room and beyond.
Yes, that's right. "ER" is back, and it's as good as it's ever been.
The NBC touchstone hit the lowest of lows last season, as the buildup to George Clooney's exit weighed the show down with too much with Clooney's patented eye twitch and head bow.
Clooney's Dr. Ross, who was wholly underdeveloped and uninteresting since the show's inception, received a goodbye only fit for a king. And a king is the furthest thing one can call Dr. Ross.
Despite the star factor — Clooney was probably the biggest starlet among the large "ER" cast — the actor never allowed viewers to understand the importance of the pediatrician with the Ceasar 'do. To say Dr. Ross was an enigma would be a bit too flattering concerning Clooney's acting ability. The correct description would be instead as a weak link in an otherwise heavy duty chain. The pediatrician never really fit around the quality of his "supporting" actors — Anthony Edwards' Dr. Green, Julianna Margulies' nurse Hathaway, Eriq La Salle's Dr. Benton and the various other docs and nurses.
The point remains: The 1998-99 season of "ER" was ruined by the high profile departure of Clooney.
Once gone, though, "ER" became very much worth watching.
It all began with an entire episode devoted to Dr. Benton's vacation deep in the South, where racism is still intense and African-American doctors from Chicago aren't easily accepted. But La Salle pulled off the solo as he used his tough demeanor and heavily guarded heart to do the right thing and help those southerners out. More than anything, the episode provided a strange closure to the Dr. Ross debacle.
But, hey, how could the "ER" writers completely eliminate Dr. Ross from their dreams?
To continue the reign of Dr. Ross, they wrote his seed into the script, impregnating nurse Hathaway not once, but twice.
Which brings the show to the present; Nurse Hathaway gave birth to twin girls on the show's Thanksgiving episode. Though these babies are the first step to writing Hathaway off the show as well — it is well known she will exit the show by the end of this season — the personal drama with which the episode was written and performed demonstrated how "ER" is only getting stronger post-Clooney.
Unfortunately for viewers, the new season has already seen the farewell of one of the more talented and special actors — Gloria Rueben. Rueben's Jeanie Boulet, a physician's assistant in the ER, provided the most gutwrenching scenes, from her own struggles with being HIV-positive to her emotional support of dying patients (particularly Dr. Anspaugh's son).
Rueben, who will go on to be a backup singer for Tina Turner, certainly deserved the royal departure given to Clooney. Instead, she had about five minutes to say her goodbyes, toward the end of one of the season's early episodes. Simply put, it was an injustice to all that is good in TV land.
To help the depleted cast of doctors, several new characters were introduced in "ER"'s season premiere. Though they have not been alotted their share of storylines, as is usual to new characters, there is certainly potential for Michael Michele's Dr. Cleo Finch, Goran Visnjic's Dr. Luka Kovak, Erik Palladino's Dr. Dave and even Kellie Martin's Lucy Knight (in her sophomore season).
For the elder statespeople in the ER — Dr. Green, Dr. Weaver (Laura Innes), nurse Hathaway, Dr. Carter and Dr. Benton — they've all been given a chance or two to flex their muscles this season with new or deeper stories to weave through.
Dr. Green is having sex with assistant chief of staff Dr. Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston). Dr. Weaver is the newly appointed and regularly arrogant chief of the ER. Dr. Carter had an affair with a breast cancer victim and old friend (Rebecca De Mornay, in another career comeback). And perhaps the most moving storyline of the season thus far, Dr. Benton dealt with the possibility of losing his son, biologically and geographically.
Most importantly, the emergency room is once again having fun. Except for the fact that the producers of the show have manifested their love of reality by showing explicit shots of human insides for extended periods of time, visiting "ER" Thursday evenings is no longer like visiting a real emergency room.
In other TV news
u "The X-files": Mulder and Scully are about a month ahead of the rest of the world, with their millennium episode airing this past Sunday. In the episode, Lance Henrikson reprised his role from Chris Carter's other sci-fi show "Millennium," which was canned this season, to help M and S with a millennial monster showdown.
The world didn't end though, thank goodness, but a major showdown did happen. Mulder and Scully's lips collided in a New Year's kiss for the millennium. In its final season, it probably isn't long before the special agents are gettin' it on when the monsters are asleep (it is the "X" files).
u "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire": Friend of Notre Dame Regis Philbin leads ABC to a November sweeps victory. With the help of some really easy questions fed to one John Carpenter, the game show finally allowed someone to become a millionaire. With a sarcastic style made only in America, Carpenter fooled viewers across America by using a lifeline on the last question to tell his father he was going to be a millionaire. Now national heros, Philbin and Carpenter returned American greed to the forefront of American pop culture.
The show will return to ABC in January.
All Scene Stories for Wednesday, December 1, 1999