Written by Evan Braun
Television today is littered with shows that burned bright but died quickly. In a time when networks are quick to cancel, it’s becoming more and more rare to see a show live out its full potential. Having just concluded its thirteenth season, with many more years on the horizon, ER has more than shown itself to be a proven commodity. It could very well be remembered as one of the most successful and longest-running series in the history of primetime television.
It certainly can’t be said that the sh…w hasn’t seen its fair share of competition. In its beginning years, it beat out fellow medical drama Chicago Hope. Currently it runs alongside House and Grey’s Anatomy, two shows that see a great deal more promotional hype. Many people page through their TV Guides only to be surprised that ER is, in fact, still on. While it may no longer be the ratings juggernaut it once was, viewers who tune in now notice an unprecedented level of sophistication.
With that introduction, we turn to the show’s most recent DVD release: The Complete Seventh Season. One of the reasons ER enjoys such unquestionable longevity is that it completely embraces the pain and necessity of change. Astute viewers who are familiar with series television will know that the willingness for a show to confront change head-on is a rare and special quality. A critical cast change is often enough to bring down even the most established television series, and yet ER has survived over 20 such changes in its run without missing a beat. With that in mind, the seventh season is an important transition year.
Down to less than half of its original cast, the producers have populated the emergency room with a host of eminently watchable characters. ER holds up the picture of ensemble perfection, expertly balancing eleven cast members with a deftness usually reserved for NFL runningbacks. Introduced just a season ago, Dr. Kovac (Goran Visnjic), a Croatian refugee, really starts coming into his own, fueling a year-long romance with fellow sophomore and fan favourite Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney). Dr. Chen (Ming-na) struggles with the emotional realities of transitioning to life after giving up her newborn for adoption while Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) makes a transition of her own: one of sexual orientation. After years of constant heartache and disappointment, Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) finds happiness in the form of a wife (Alex Kingston’s Dr. Corday) and new daughter. Continuing a lingering storyline from its sixth year, the writers explore the depths and confusion of rebirth through John Carter (Noah Wyle), who returns to Chicago from a three-month long sojourn in an addictions treatment program and attempts to breathe new life into his career.
Of course, no description of the seventh season would be complete without Sally Field’s Emmy-winning 6-episode turn as the turbulent Maggie Wyczenski, Abby’s bipolar disorder-afflicted mother. In thirteen seasons, this mother-daughter storyline proves to be an absolute standout, and one that I was personally looking forward to ever since ER’s first DVD release was announced several years ago.
There won’t be any question for the already-converted that ER is worth the price of admission (which is, by the way, quite affordable when compared to some of its primetime dramatic cousins).
This season is presented in 1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen, even though the series wasn’t initially broadcast that way. I love that they put forth the extra effort to produce such an outstanding video transfer, as it definitely enhances the viewing experience. Especially for those like me who have relegated full screen presentations to second-class status.< \p>
The quality of the video is exceptionally high, particularly so for television. There’s no digital artifacting as far as I was able to tell and very little grain. I was particularly pleased with the color range, which is notably improved from the earliest season releases (it’s amazing how many thousands of shades of hospital green can be identified).
The seventh season, as with previous seasons, features a 2-channel Dolby soundtrack. While not the most complicated audio arrangement (especially if you’ve invested in a full surround sound system), you’re unlikely to have any series complaints. That said, it would be nice to see use of surround in the future; with so much audio information being thrown at you, it would be an amazing experience (hospital sequences can easily have as many as 10 speaking characters passing in and out of frame as the camera whirls around them).
The soundtrack is expertly mixed. With so many characters, background players, sound effects, and music to balance, the audio engineers have more than their fair share to handle. The end result is surprisingly crisp and clear.
While the quality of the show on a technical and creative level is very high, the special features are beginning to dwindle. Unfortunately, this is a trend I’ve come to expect several years into multi-season releases.
That said, the show continues its now long-standing tradition of including deleted scenes (or CutUps as the DVD producers whimsically call them). 16 of the season’s 22 episodes contain at least one such scene. However, I’ve always felt while viewing them that they were deleted for good reason. They’re universally unmemorable.
The disc also includes the annual gag reel (aka Outpatient Outtakes). Which is fun, I suppose, if you enjoy that sort of thing…
If you’re anything like me, you’ll buy season sets from favorite shows for the sole purpose of filling out a collection – fortunately, The Complete Seventh Season happens to be a knock-out. This is powerful television at its very best.
Special Features List
- Deleted Scenes
- Gag reel