Continuing in my tradition of discussing pop culture 5-to-10 years after its shelf life: Once upon a time, I was an enormous fan of ER. From the time I started watching early in season one, I didn't miss a single first-run broadcast until I finally stopped watching late in season five. I learned the medical jargon; I memorized every minor character's name; I speculated about and debated the future plotlines endlessly. It was a great show and I loved it.

Like a lot of fans, I stopped watching at the time of George Clooney's departure, but that wasn't my reason. I had just gotten into the newsgroup, supposedly a place for fans to discuss the series. These people claimed to be fans and watched every episode, but by all appearances, they hated it. No storyline was good enough, no performance right enough. The Internet is full of cranky, picky people, and these were the worst I'd seen. Within days of subscribing, I had gone from being a hardcore ER addict to someone who took no more joy in the show. I tried watching one more episode post-Clooney, but the love was gone. They'd sucked it out of me before I'd even realized it.

Today, thanks to Netflix, ER is one of the shows I've been able to catch up on, every episode from the top. Tonight, I watched the two-hour Clooney departure and recognize it as the best the series had yet produced, a potent story about the euthanasia of a boy and the disintegration of personal relationships that had spent years forming. Better yet, it was the perfect way to write out Clooney's character, a reckless rebel who enjoyed treating patients in ways that violated policy so he could thumb his nose at management; for years, it was obvious the jerk would someday wreck his career over a stunt like this.

But if you had asked the newsgroup at the time, it was a horrendous mistreatment of the character – Doug Ross would never do something ethically wrong like that! – and the show was wrong to write him out any other way than a ticker-tape parade where he was hoisted up on the shoulders of his enemies. The "fans" bashed it to no end, treating two brilliant hours of drama like garbage. They were wrong. I felt it at the time, but now I'm older and wiser and I've seen the entire series in short order, and I know it in my bones: They were wrong.

What's sweeter than the vindication is that I now love the show more than I did back then, with a fuller appreciation. I'm going to watch the next episode and keep on watching, venturing into unexplored territory. I've heard a fair share of future spoilers, but even if the show is eight years old to you, it's emotionally fresh and vital to me now. I have reclaimed a happiness that was once stolen from me. It feels damn good.

Two Replies to

Anna Gregoline | August 16, 2007
Man, I should Netflix those. Reading that was just like my experience, although without the newsgroup. I watched it and loved it, and stopped watching around the same time (but not because Clooney left, specifically). Fantastic show. I got a bit tired of how they kept trying to top themselves, to the point of, "Why isn't this hospital shut down already?!?" It became SO much more about the doctors and not about the patients at all. I enjoyed the earlier stuff more, about Carter trying to become a doctor, then a surgeon, etc. Lots of real and painful moments in there.

Another show that I think never got the kudos it deserved was "Third Watch." I also had to stop watching it before it was cancelled, because I hated the direction it was going in. But some of those story lines were phenomenal. Also, it was the only show at the time that DEALT with 9/11 in a very real way. Sadly, the show is not yet on DVD.

Scott Hardie | January 21, 2012
It took a long time - 334 episodes is what, about two straight weeks of programming? - but last night, I finally finished ER on DVD, start to finish. What a show! The rush of seeing some lives saved and others torn apart remained a rush all this time. The series wavered a little in its double-digit seasons, as budget cuts and ratings competition from Gray's Anatomy compelled it to focus too much on the lame romantic pairings between underwritten characters, but the 14th and especially the final 15th season brought back the great life-and-death moments that were always the show's best. They could not have cast a finer lead actress to anchor the show's final season than Angela Bassett, whose personal tragedy years earlier in the same ER drove one of the series' very best episodes (spoilers in the sidebar there). It was nice to see old cast members turn up now and then in the final season, although too bad the opening credits spoiled them every time.

Checking out a few "fan" reviews online today, I see that the bitching never stopped. They hated new character Simon Brenner, who revealed surprising dimensions during his brief time on the show. They hated seeing mean old Peter Benton return, even though he was nothing but warm and kind during his guest appearances. They cheered the return of the original opening credits over the bleak and very quick bumper that took their place for the final few years, even though the bumper meant an extra minute of drama per episode, and who cares about opening credits anyway? I just wonder why some people waste so much time watching and thinking about something that they apparently despise. I'm glad that I got to see the series on my own time and appreciate it in full. ER wasn't perfect, but many of its 334 episodes were.

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