Doctor drama is a regular part of television nowadays. When I was growing up, there wasn’t one on every station. I had ER. It followed the everyday intensity of the Chicago County Hospital emergency room. Recently, because of holidays, sick days, and blizzards, I started to watch the series again. During my rewatch, I found myself wondering, “does ER hold up to 2023 standards?”.
Along with wondering how it stands up, I also realized that some of my favorite characters came from this show. However, on the opposite end of that spectrum, this show also has a couple of characters I absolutely despise, so much so that they still rank in my top 5.
While a lot of my love for this show may be nostalgia, there are a lot of aspects that make the show one of the best. I believe it set the stage for shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Chicago Med. So what exactly makes the show that good?
While we all know big-name actors like George Clooney, who rose to stardom after his time on ER, there were also actors who came from fame or entered into it through this show. To name just a few, Anthony Edwards, Juliana Margulies, Noah Wylie, Mikhail Pfipher, Thandie Newton, and Alex Kingston. Alongside the main characters was the recurring cast of nurses and front desk staff, some of whom had been there since episode one. These actors added to each episode’s plot line and were integral to the show’s progression.
The level of acting they brought to the show was immaculate. In addition, each actor brought emotion and expertise to their craft, which lent itself to a more emotionally invested viewer.
During my rewatch I have been reminded of why I hated or loved ceratin characters. There are some that stand out to me in either direction. I could list 15 characters here but I will choose a few of my favorite and my least favorite.
John Carter – Starting off as a naive and cocky medical student, he grows into a confident and talented doctor. John goes through a lot in the series and struggles at points to feel like he fits in. With the help of mentors, family, and friends he makes it through the series and ends up happy and assured man.
Carol Hathaway – Strong-willed and headstrong, Nurse Hathaway has an intense and rocky introduction to the series. She grows into an integral part of the show. She is great at her job, wavering slightly along the way, believing she could be more. In the end she realizes she is good at her job and that has to be good enough for everyone.
Mark Greene – Dr. Greene was there from episode one and he carried through as a leader through the series for many new doctors and students. He is pegged as the bad guy in his first marriage and, in my personal opinion, his ex-wife is really the jerk of the relationship. Neither was perfect, though Dr. Greene gets unfairly blamed.
Robert Romano – Dr. Romano is my most hated character of the show. He is arrogant, self-centered, and unempathetic. I wanted to have a moment of clarity for him, where there was an understanding of why he was how he was, but it never came. He was just a jerk and that’s it.
So we all know good storytelling makes or breaks a show. ER’s plot lines and story arcs are evergreen. Characters deal with unwanted pregnancies, racism, alcoholism, health scares, and relationships.
Although sometimes overdone nowadays, the plots and dramas never seem forced. They were reflective of the culture of the time and, unfortunately, still reflective of today. Though they seem repetitive, ER debuted in 1994 and ended in 2009, so these stories were told long before current shows.
Let’s be honest, we all love drama. ER is definitely full of drama. There is death and birth, Marriage and breakups, rule-breaking, and self-preservation. This show has it all and everything in between.
ER was the first medical drama of it’s kind to show every aspect of medicine beyond a short conversation and a check of the heart. There were real doctors on set to coach the actors on what to say, how to say it, and where to place the instruments.
The show also had several episodes that went off established formatting. There was an episode filmed as if it were a documentary filmed for airing on TV (this was aired LIVE), an episode played from end to beginning, an episode shot from two perspectives and how they connect, and an episode shot from the perspective of multiple characters.
There is no doubt that TV series have impact on people every day. Aside from having incredible ratings, the stars of the show agree that they have inspired a whole generation of people to go into medicine.
There was also a lot of representation of marginalized groups like black men and women, LGBTQ community, and the less fortunate. Noah Wyle recognized this when speaking about Eriq La Salle ““He played an unapologetically talented black man, who didn’t car to be liked” “he was standing for something extremely significant….that was way ahead of it’s time.”
Another cast member who pioneered the way for representation lesbian/bisexuals on TV. A main character on a hit show not being straight was really the first of it’s kind. Laura Innes mentioned that there would be social impact studies on the show and how “it made people healthier.”
THE POP CULTURE REFERENCES
ER found ways to incorporate pop culture into its drama-filled chaos. They gave us Tomagotchi, Game Boy, Y2K, Dixie Chicks….. and everything in between. Granted, some references were well-known at the time of airing, but not as much these days. To elder millennials like me, they are a reminder of days of yore.
Yes, I love this show, and I think it’s well-written, acted, and loaded with drama. But does ER hold up to 2023 standards? In terms of everything listed above, yes. In terms of its PC nature? No. There are a lot of references to people’s bodies, sexual orientation, gender identity, and race that would not fly today. For example, one of the first episodes used the term “she-male,” there are many jokes about patients’ weight, and there is even an episode about a transgender child who was consistently misgendered.
While I appreciate the series trying to address the tough topics, watching the episodes back now is hard to stomach. Although, when the show was running, I appreciated that it was up to standards. Looking at the show with a 2023 lens is a different story. So, keep an open mind when watching if you decide to take a deep dive into this series.