ER - The Complete First Season
IMDB Rating: 4.5 (119 votes)
Director: Anita W. Addison, Brett Fallis, Charles Haid, Christopher Chulack, Daniel Sackheim
Studio: Warner Brothers Home Video
Starring: Anthony Edwards, George Clooney, Julianna Margulies, Eriq La Salle, Noah Wyle
Summary: Inspired by creator Michael Crichton's experiences as a medical student in a hospital emergency room, "ER" quickly became one of the most compelling shows of the 1990s, each episode a whirlwind of intense and involving drama, gritty realism, and offbeat humor. Heading the staff at the inner-city Chicago hospital is Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards), a doctor so good at providing care to the downtrodden, helpless, or just plain quirky patients that his career blossoms even as his personal life crumbles. Greene is the soul of the cast, but the heart is Julianna Margulies's nurse Carol Hathaway. Her character was intended only for the pilot episode, but she ended up capturing viewers with her palpable empathy for patients and her troublesome romance with womanizing pediatrician Doug Ross (George Clooney). The rest of the central cast consisted of compassionate Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield), Peter Benton (Eriq Lasalle), whose prodigious talent nearly matches his ambition, and his fresh-faced student, John Carter (Noah Wyle). Other key characters included ER heads Morgenstern and Swift (William H. Macy and Michael Ironside, respectively), overachieving student Deb (Ming Na), who returned later in the show's run, attending physician Angela Hicks (CCH Pounder), and physical therapist Jeanie Boulet (Gloria Rueben).
The remarkably strong first season showed off its sharp ensemble cast through a variety of compelling story lines both personal (Carter's conflicts with Benton, Lewis's struggles with her no-account sister, Chloe, played by Kathleen Wilhoite) and professional (a holiday blizzard and especially the harrowing tale of a pregnancy gone bad, "Love's Labor Lost," which won five Emmy Awards). When Carter is pondering whether his future includes the ER, Green jokes, "It's not bad: Stress, late nights, hard work, no pay--it's hard to beat." It's hard to imagine people choosing to work under those conditions, but they do, and in the process these very "human" people perform superhuman feats as they face life and death as part of their daily jobs.
DVD features are fairly generous for a TV series box. There are two commentary tracks on the pilot episode, including one by Crichton, and crew commentaries on "Sleepless in Chicago" and "Love's Labor Lost." A new 39-minute documentary discusses the show's genesis, casting, and the "Chicago hospital drama smackdown" with "Chicago Hope" through interviews with Crichton, executive producer Steven Spielberg, other crew members, and the principal cast members other than Eriq LaSalle. Also included are a very watchable featurette on the show's realism (ever wonder why Ross is always looking down?) and another on post-production, a list of characters (including patients by episode, but why no actor credits?), three minor deleted scenes, outtakes, and a glossary of frequently used medical terms. Particularly notable is that the episodes are shown in anamorphic widescreen. "ER" was one of the first network shows broadcast in widescreen, but that was years after these episodes, which are shown in widescreen for the first time. "--David Horiuchi"