Reviewed by David Williams (September 17, 2003)
Created by the dream team of author Michael Crichton and producer Steven Spielberg, ER debuted on NBC way back in 1994 to critical acclaim and large audiences. For a decade, the show has been at or near the top of the ratings and amazingly, has been able to continually reinvent itself - while staying true to its loyal fan base - in order to pull strong numbers season after season after season. The show features strong writing, an excellent ensemble cast, above-average production values, and a well-balanced level of intensity that easily holds your interest for the entire hour it’s on.
If you’re not familiar with the way ER works, each episode deals with the daily lives (personal and professional) of the doctors, nurses, and medical staff in Chicago’s County General Hospital Emergency Room. The multiple story arcs are wrapped around the hustle and bustle of patients continually coming in and out of the ER and we get a front row seat to the lives, loves, and losses, as well as the pain, tragedy and emotion of a day in the life of one of County General’s best and brightest.
The first season ensemble was quite a memorable one – there’s Doctor Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards), a very confident and capable doctor who delicately balances his duties in the ER with those at home; Doctor Doug Ross (George Clooney), the rebellious, yet compassionate pediatrics doctor who doesn’t always do what is right, but always does what is right for his patients; Doctor Peter Benton (Eric LaSalle), a very gifted, highly confident, and self-assured surgeon whose emotionally distant attitude rubs many folks the wrong way; and Carol Hathaway (Julianna Marguiles), the very knowledgeable and practical head nurse of the ER who composedly and skillfully performs right alongside all of the doctors and surgeons that surround her. Other notable cast members from the inaugural season include medical student John Cater (Noah Wyle), a wet-behind-the-ears intern who plays an integral part in many of the first season episodes ,as well as Doctor Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield); sacrificing almost everything to become a doctor, she must balance a chaotic family life in order to remain one.
Warner, rapidly releasing high-quality boxed sets of their televised series, has done another excellent job with their release of ER: The Complete First Season. All twenty-five of the first season episodes are spread out over three double-sided/dual-layered DVDs and one single-sided/single-layered disc with a fold out case enclosed in a cardboard slipcover.
As I usually do on reviews of TV shows, I’ll hit it episode by episode, disc by disc.
- DISC ONE -
Pilot (Original Air Date: September 19, 1994)
We meet the staff of a Chicago-based emergency room – County General - on a particularly busy day after a building collapse brings in a ton of patients. There’s Doctor Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards), who’s considering leaving the hustle and bustle of the ER to join a private practice; Doctor Doug Ross (George Clooney), who comes into work still a little drunk and very hung over; and Doctor Peter Benton (Eric La Salle), preparing to perform a major operation normally reserved for senior surgeons on the same day he’s expecting his intern, John Carter (Noah Wyle), to show up for work. Everyone in the ER is shocked when head nurse, Carol Hathaway (Julianna Marguiles), is brought in after a failed suicide attempt.
Day One (Original Air Date: September 22, 1994)
Doctor Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) attempts to get help for a mentally disturbed man admitted to the psychiatric ward while Doctor Ross fights to save a girl hit by a drunk driver. Carter tends to a tour group and a large wedding party that have all gotten food poisoning and Doctor Greene must counsel an elderly man that is having difficulty dealing with the death of his beloved wife.
Going Home (Original Air Date: September 29, 1994)
Carol Hathaway returns to work after her suicide attempt and corresponding absence and it leaves Doug Ross, feeling somewhat responsible for her problems. Rosemary Clooney makes an Emmy-nominated appearance as an Alzheimer’s patient, “Madame X”, being cared for by Carter. Doctor Greene tends to a domestic violence victim.
Hit and Run (Original Air Date: October 6, 1994)
Carter wonders if he really wants to continue on in medicine as he is given the task of notifying the parents of a dead teenager from a hit-and-run accident. Doctors Lewis and Benton clash over a misdiagnosed case, while Doug and Carol attempt to mend their relationship.
Into That Good Night (Original Air Date: October 13, 1994)
Doctor Greene tries to find a heart transplant for a critically ill patient, as his wife prepares to move to Milwaukee. Doctor Ross helps out with an asthmatic teenager’s medical bills when he learns that her family can’t afford the costs of her medication, while Doctor Lewis treats a teenager with alcohol poisoning. Carter thinks he may have contracted an STD from his girlfriend, Liz (Liz Vassey).
Chicago Heat (Original Air Date: October 20, 1994)
The AC goes out during one of the hottest days in October and it causes some of the other ERs in the area to close and creates a much larger workload than normal at County General. Ross treats a very young overdose patient who OD’d on her sister’s cocaine, while Carol finds out that he (Ross) recently picked up a comely pharmaceutical rep for a little fun. Doctor Lewis’ sister, Chloe (Kathleen Wilhoite), drops by and as always, causes all kinds of problems. A pizza delivery man crashes his car through the front doors of the ER.
Another Perfect Game (Original Air Date: November 3, 1994)
Hathaway second guesses moving in with Dr. Tagliari (Rick Rossovich) after she and Ross hook up for a kiss. Benton interviews for the prestigious Starzl Fellowship and also does an incredible job of saving a man’s life with a very serious throat wound. Doctor Lewis has quite an eventful birthday.
- DISC TWO -
9 ½ Hours (Original Air Date: November 10, 1994)
Hathaway treats a rape victim on the verge of killing herself and Doctor Greene calls in sick in order to spend some time with his wife and Doctor Ross must cover for him on a very hectic day. Doctor Benton and Carter’s relationship starts showing signs of strain, as Carter becomes more and more tired of Benton’s attitude. Benton’s mother shows up in the ER with an ankle problem.
ER Confidential (Original Air Date: November 17, 1994)
Doctor Cvetic (John Terry) attempts to deal with a growing sense of hatred toward his patients and Carol Hathaway deals with an ethical dilemma when a patient confides the details of an accident to her. Carter and Benton treat a suicidal transvestite and Doug deals with more relationship problems.
Blizzard (Original Air Date: December 8, 1994)
A massive winter storm hits the Chicago area and brings the ER to a literal standstill. However, as the staff is cutting up and enjoying their downtime, a call comes in that there has been a massive car pile-up and there are dozens of casualties. The ER goes from empty to over capacity very quickly. Also, a new doctor comes to the ER - Angela Hicks (CCH Pounder).
The Gift (Original Air Date: December 15, 1994)
Doctor Benton makes a huge mistake by advertising a dying man’s organs before getting consent from his family – namely, the man’s estranged wife – and he unnecessarily gets up the hopes of patients and families in need. Doctor Hicks confronts Benton about the error. Meanwhile, Chloe announces that she’s pregnant.
Happy New Year (Original Air Date: January 5, 1995)
Carter makes it through his first surgery and complains to Doctor Benton about some of the work he’s required to do as a resident. Doctor Lewis gets into it with a cardiologist, Doctor Kayson (Sam Anderson), after a heart patient that was released is soon readmitted in serious condition. Chloe tells everyone she’s moving to Texas with her boyfriend.
Luck Of The Draw (Original Air Date: January 12, 1995)
Carter trains one of Benton’s new students, Deb Chen (Ming-Na Wen), while Hathaway has her hands full with a patient who’s obsessed with colors. Kayson brings charges against Doctor Lewis over the death of a patient and Morgenstern (William H. Macy) reprimands her for not being assertive enough. Doctor Green works on a patient who has swallowed packets of cocaine.
Long Day’s Journey (Original Air Date: January 19, 1995)
Doctor Ross’ caseload is quite hectic, as he’s dealing with an abuse case, a suicide, a teen prostitute with AIDS, and a child with cancer. Carter is shown up by new resident Deb and Doctor Lewis and Doctor Kayson have an unusual run in, as Lewis tends to Kayson as a patient.
February 5, ’95 (Original Air Date: February 2, 1995)
Morgenstern offers Doctor Greene a permanent position as attending physician, but Greene’s wife has other plans. Hathaway must deal with a patient (a guest starring Bobcat Goldthwaite) who thinks he’s dead and Greene is working with a cancer patient who wants to die. Deb shows up Carter again and a poisonous snake on the loose makes things interesting in the ER.
- DISC THREE -
Make Of Two Hearts (Original Air Date: February 9, 1995)
Hathaway is concerned about a young, adopted Russian girl who is abandoned by her American mother in the ER. Doctor Kayson brings Doctor Lewis some flowers and asks her to go out to dinner, while Deb consumes some LSD-laced chocolates by accident.
The Birthday Party (Original Air Date: February 16, 1995)
Doctor Hicks tells Benton that his mother’s health is affecting his work when he attempts to swap shifts to attend his mother’s birthday party. Hick suggests that Benton tale a break in order to sort things out. Doctor Ross tangles with an abusive father, while Nurse Hathaway decides that she wants to adopt the abandoned Russian girl left in the ER. Doctor Greene’s wife accepts a job in Milwaukee despite the fact that he has been offered an attending position from Doctor Morgenstern.
Sleepless In Chicago (Original Air Date: February 23, 1995)
Benton works a 48-hour shift without any sleep, causing him some problems when he’s with his mother. Greene’s wife tells him she wants to leave and Hathaway receives some bad news about her adoption. Carter prolongs the life of a terminally ill patient who wants to die and Morgenstern tells Doctor Greene that he is leaving and wants Greene to be his replacement. Hathaway drops in on Doctor Ross at a very inopportune time.
Love’s Labor Lost (Original Air Date: March 9, 1995)
Doctor Greene, hampered by personal problems, severely misdiagnoses a pregnant woman who has problems just moments after leaving the ER. One bad decision breeds another until things are seemingly out of control. Doctor Greene, as well as others, attempt to deliver the baby and at the same time, save the mother’s life. Benton deals with more personal issues stemming from his mother’s health.
Full Moon, Saturday Night (Original Air Date: March 30, 1995)
Doctor Greene, still reeling from the loss of a pregnant patient under his care, hangs around the ER just a little too long when the new chief, Doctor William Swift (Michael Ironside), shows up. Carter and Deb remain in competition with each other while Doctor Benton comes to the harsh realization that his mother is on a downward spiral.
House Of Cards (Original Air Date: April 6, 1995)
The new chief, Doctor Swift, requires that Greene go before a panel in order to present the case about his patients’ death. Meanwhile, Deb and Carter are still in furious competition and when Benton cuts a deadline by one week, Deb makes a grave mistake with a patient while trying to beat Carter. Doctor Ross’ relationship with Diane Leeds (Lisa Zane) continues to get more and more serious, while Benton decides his mother would be best served in a home.
Men Plan, God Laughs (Original Air Date: April 27, 1995)
Doctor Benton struggles to help out his parents, while Doctor Greene aggravates Doctor Swift by deciding to go to Milwaukee to try and reconcile with his wife rather than put in more time at the ER. Doctor Lewis gets more than she bargained for with a pregnant Chloe and Doctor Ross agrees to coach Diane’s son’s Little League team.
Love Among Ruins (Original Air Date: May 4, 1995)
The Greene’s marital trials and tribulations continue while Doctor Lewis’ trails and tribulations with Chloe continue. Tag and Hathaway work on their wedding vows together and things become tricky when the mention of Doug Ross comes up. Carter’s background is unearthed and the staff learns that he comes from a very wealthy family.
- DISC FOUR -
Motherhood (Original Air Date: May 11, 1995)
Oscar-winner Quentin Tarantino guest directs and things start off with a bang as Susan is forced to become a parent to Chloe’s baby when she shuns responsibility. Carter is offered the ER sub-I, but turns it down in hopes that he’ll receive a surgical position and Ross gets a little unnerved when Diane suggests they move in together. Doctor Benton learns that his mother has died.
Everything Old Is New Again (Original Air Date: May 18, 1995)
Hathaway and Tag’s wedding day encounters a few problems – Lewis can’t find Chloe (who ends up abandoning her baby) and the priest can’t find Tag. Meanwhile, Carter prepares for his last day and gives Benton some pretty harsh grades on an evaluation which he later retracts.
Watching the first season all over again just drives home how great ER was … and in some cases, still is. Warner’s comprehensive DVD set is a great way to relive the incredible inaugural season of this great show and I’m sure it will have fans clamoring for season two. Thankfully, Warner’s release schedules have been more consistent than most and I’m sure we’ll see season two up for pre-order sometime soon – and if it’s as good as this one was technically, it’ll be worth every penny.