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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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