Saying farewell to a television staple.
It’s more than likely that NBC built Chicago’s County General Hospital atop an ancient tribal burial ground. Over the past 15 television seasons it’s become a hotspot for hostage situations, runaway ambulances and falling helicopters. For any medical students unlucky enough to take their residency at County, the assignment practically guarantees loss of life, limb(s) or offspring. ER has been touted as a hard-hitting medical drama, a savvy soap in rumpled scrubs. But as anyone who’s been paying attention knows, it’s actually survivor horror. Only Lorne Michaels shuffles his ensemble with more cruelty. New doctors enter County at a steady clip, but they rarely depart with the same spring in their step (if they can even walk at all). Fan favorite Dr. Green (Anthony Edwards) had to die from a brain tumor to earn his Hawaiian vacation.
Looking back at all the heartache and lousy haircuts, I’m quick to wonder why we put ourselves though all of this, and for so long. It takes far less time to book a motel room, slide open the nightstand drawer, pull out the Gideon Bible and read through than the Book of Job to endure this decade-and-a-half-long tragedy. It’s hardly escapism—especially since the departure of George Clooney’s Doug Ross (and a little piece of our heart along with him). Those characters who did endear themselves either died or wisely retreated. Those who remained were often the kind of selfish, type A personalities we tend to duck from in our own lives. The kind of people who live or die without earning our sympathies. But sometimes I think we cared when we didn’t expect it, stung from wounds we never thought we’d get. We’re a big bunch of masochists and we’ll take any opportunity to cry into our sleeves. County is where you come to hug it out, and in that way it’s become an institution.
I doubt that this week’s finale will resolve with the hospital’s merciful destruction and a sprinkling of salt upon its ruins, but the long, painful removal of the bandage will finally come to an end. I just don’t know if it’s going to be a relief.
Thursdays, 10pm, NBC
In Memoriam: David Brenner