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ER finale a reminder of show's legacy, and why it should end now



Er Fans didn’t get to see George Clooney one last time, but NBC’s two-hour farewell Thursday to its long-running medical drama ER offered something more important:

A welcome reminder why the series has lasted 15 years on network television – and proof why it’s now time for it all to end.

Thanks to cameo appearances from most key actors whose characters remain alive – except the aforementioned Mr. Clooney and his character’s girlfriend, played by Juliana Margulies, who appeared in a well-done episode a few weeks ago – the finale had the feel of a friendly class reunion.

(Click here to read how David Mills, a way cool former journalist who wrote briefly for ER in the '90s, created the character of "Rocket" Romano.

The opening of a sprawling charitable medical center funded by Noah Wyle’s dedicated rich kid physician John Carter provided the pretext for bringing back former stars Eriq LaSalle, Laura Innes, Alex Kingston and Sherry Stringfield to play Peter Benton, Kerry Weaver, Elizabeth Corday and Susan Lewis once more.

And what longtime fan didn’t get a little misty seeing Benton’s deaf son Reese all grown up in a suit and tie at Carter’s reception?

Er460 Producer John Wells even provided a few tips of the hat to ER’s two-hour pilot episode, allowing Scott Grimes’ reformed knuckledhead Dr. Archie Morris to recreate the very first scene from the show’s first episode – as Morris was roused from a nap during a shift in the same way Anthony Edwards’ Mark Greene started his day 15 years ago.

Once upon a time, the cases which filled Thursday episode would have felt ground breaking and fresh. The mother who gives birth to twins but dies from complications. The elderly man who must accept that his lifelong partner and wife is dying (played by Ernest Borgnine, no less!)

The kid who falls into a coma from alcohol poisoning after drinking at a party where parents handed out the booze.

But on Thursday, all these contrivances felt like shadows echoing other, better episodes long past. By
the time David Lyons’ Aussie doctor Simon Brenner gave the earnest speech about how doctors can only do their best, get some sleep and try again tomorrow – to Gilmore Girls’ alum Alexis Bledel, no less! – it was obvious we’d all seen this dance too many times.

Didn't help that the local NBC affiliate, WFLA-Ch. 8, had intrusive weather maps and an irritating chime playing repeatedly through parts of the finale. These technical glitches were an unfortunate black mark on the finale broadcast for local viewers. JohnStamos-ER2 Continuation was the theme of the night, with John Stamos’ Tony Gates taking over the dreamy, dedicated doctor gig Clooney once held down, St. Petersburg-raised Angela Bassett filling Benton’s crusty-doc-with-a-heart-of-gold role and Morris improbably leading the ER as the new Greene.

 A one-hour retrospective leading off the night featured interviews with all the series’ past stars – except Clooney, who didn’t show even though producer Steven Spielberg did – highlighting how the long, Steadicam shots and often-ambivalent storylines burst the boundaries of what was considered acceptable on network TV.

But as pedestrian dramas such as CSI and Law & Order increasingly  featured such cinematic techniques and gritty storylines, the time for ER’s retirement began looming like its own, odd medical emergency.

Wells echoed the series most consistent theme by showing old and new doctors uniting to handle yet another emergency at the finale’s end.

But Thursday’s episode also proved that NBC’s ER called it quits at just the right time; because TV series – unlike medical institutions – should never go on forever.

Check the finale for yourself below:

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:56pm]


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