Friday, February 18, 2005

A Not Too Daring Idea from ER

I haven't watched ER regularly in quite a while. In fact I haven't watched ER at all since the season when they killed Mark Greene off. Let's see, that would be around the 2001-02 season. Oh wait I take that back; the last episode I watched was the one that crossed over with Third Watch but only because I was watching Third Watch a lot that year and wanted to see the complete story. Suffice it to say then that I haven't watched the show in a while. It used to be must see TV for me (yeah I know that's a commercial tag line but it doesn't make it any less valid) but increasingly it became less about medicine with the private lives of the doctors taking a back seat. That's what made some episodes that focussed on the doctors - like the one where Doug Ross and Mark Greene drive to San Diego to visit Mark's parents - special. By the time I decided that I didn't care about the show enough to even watch the tapes that I'd made the show had become about the doctors rather than the doctoring.

Still, I decided to tape last night's show (or as it turned out tape most of it - the tape ran out before the end of the episode) for a couple of reasons. First, Cynthia Nixon was in the episode and I have been in lust with her since the first time she took her clothes of in Sex and the City. Secondly the description of the episode made it sound as if the show was actually going to try something edgy by having the episode seen through the eyes of a patient with a massive stroke. ER used to do edgy really well. There was the "live" episode, and there was the episode that showed us the last days of Mark Greene. This episode wasn't what I expected, or wanted. The parts with Cynthia Nixon were excellent. They brilliantly captured the confusion, the panic and the various stages of grief that a patient who has suffered a sudden unexpected medical trauma through the use of voice-overs by Nixon's character "Ellie". (I particularly liked Ellie immediately falling into a state of lust over Goran Visnjic's "Luka"). The problem was that Ellie's story wasn't the whole episode, and her perspective wasn't even used for the whole episode. Instead you had the apparently continuing storyline of the resident who is also a major jerk and proves it by assuming that a patient innocently caught up in a protest that turned violent is in fact a drugged out looter, and another storyline about three kids - one of whom has been injured - and the secret they're keeping. And there were relationships! By the gods there were relationships: Abby's, Luka's, Carter's. In fact the only reason that Carter seemed to be in the episode was apparently to have his current relationship turn to crap.

The thing is that a lot of this stuff didn't have to be sacrificed to tell the whole episode from Ellie's point of view. If they had to have these other plots they could have been presented from Ellie's perspective, with or without here comments on the situation. It's not as if it hasn't been done before. In the seventh season of M*A*S*H there was an episode called "Point of View" in which everything, from the time the soldier was wounded through his being brought to the 4077th to his eventual departure to an Evac hospital was literally seen through the soldier's eyes. In that half hour they didn't restrict other actions. There was the same byplay between regular characters, and the same sort of medical emergencies that typified the series normally. The difference was that it was all seen through the eyes of the wounded soldier. It was good television and the memory of that episode and that sort of risk taking is what makes last night's episode of ER so disappointing. Not only did they steal the idea but the execution wasn't as daring as the original. Too bad.

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