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"Jaws Attacks: 'E.R.'"

2003-12-05 - 12:04 p.m.


All the signs, as designated by, point to an imminent shark-jumping for “E.R.”:

A) “Exit…“Stage Left”: it’s made up of almost all new characters, with only a couple of original cast members hanging on, like a 1970’s rock band on the state-fair circuit. Hang in there, Doctors Carter and Lewis.

B) “New Kid in Town”: this season, the son of new cast member Linda Cartellini’s character is getting way too much screen time, Cousin Oliver-style.

C) “Moving”: episodes featuring Dr. Carter are now taking place in Africa

D) and, in my own category, “Now, with increasingly apocalyptic tragedies every episode!”(“oh my God! There’s anthrax floating through the airvents! Oh my God, the whole upstairs just exploded! Oh my God, it’s 8:45—time to bust out the small pox!”), simultaneously coupled with ho-hum sub-plot story arcs and underdeveloped new characters

So much, these days, seems wrong with “E.R.,” which has been a consistently well-written and -acted show for more than a decade. The heft of last night’s episode centered around the aforementioned kid and his reaching out to Dr. Kovach as a surrogate daddy figure—even though one of the show’s central characters, the misanthropic Dr. Romano, was killed in a helicopter crash last week. That character’s death was treated as if the show’s makers are trying to hide the increasing rate of departing cast members: “Maybe if we act like it didn’t happen, the audience will barely notice he’s gone!”

And then there was the shamefully unconvincing and under-developed sub-story about two Amish kids from Arcola being bad during their rumspringa (but hey, stop the press: downstate Illinois earns mention on national TV!) And not to sound all back-woods racist-y, but the show seems to be going so over-the-top in terms of purposefully creating a multicultural cast that I can’t help but think of the hilarious name of “South Park”’s African-American character: “Token.”

And yet. Even as I shook my head in disappointment at all these things last night, I marveled at the fact that—even in mid-shark-jump—it’s still a quality, watchable show. The new “E.R.” cast members—who will always have an unfair stigma, because everyone knows the “original” “E.R.” included Dr.s Green, Ross, and Benton—are strong and give consistently solid performances (even if the characters they play are pretty one-dimensional.) For having to constantly replace characters with newer ones, the show has done a remarkably good job—think of how bad it would suck if they’d just tried to just hire new actors for the old characters, soap opera-style.

The addition of Cartellini to the show is an especially good one, even if the character she plays isn’t. (Single mom professing not to want Dr. Kovach as her boyfriend/father figure for her kid, signaling the audience to root for her to land Dr. Kovach as boyfriend/father figure for her kid. Yawn.) Cartellini exhibited so much promise on “Freaks and Geeks” (the hilarious, genius, and completely well-written/acted—and therefore doomed—series of yore), that it’s surprising she’s only now returned to the small screen. (And how weird it is to see her go from playing a hippie-haired highschooler to a frosted-haired twentysomething with a kid.)

Overall, “E.R.” seems doomed for the mouth of the shark, but it’s going down with dignity. Perhaps it could be saved if the behind-the-scenes people tone down the uber-climax-per-show premise and get back to the dramatic interplay between characters, which is really what’s made it exciting all these years.


And now, for some related news, which is both good and bad. The good: the writers of “Freaks and Geeks” are working on a new show! The bad: apparently it’s going to star to Jennifer Love Hewitt. I’d rather see Linda C. get a role in the new show, and have the cutesy Jenny Love take her place on “E.R.”—only to get axed by a giant tidal wave that wipes out an entire floor of the ever-indestructible County General... or, wait--have they already done that one?

that was then - this is now

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