The series premiere of E.R on September 19, 1994 was preceded by the premiere of another medical drama, Chicago Hope, by one day. But one day didn’t seem to make much of a difference in the show’s longevity. E.R.ended after fifteen seasons on NBC in 2009. The show has seen a drastic change in cast members over the years—none of the original cast members were series regulars by the last season. We are, however, reunited with original cast members Dr. John Carter, played by Noah Wyle, Dr. Susan Lewis, played by Sherry Stringfield, and the underutilized Laura Innes as the stone-faced Dr. Kerry Weaver in season 12.
Recurring characters Abby (Maura Tierney) and Luka (Gordon Visnjic) get a fair amount of screen time throughout the season as they see their friendship evolve. Freaks and Geeks’ Linda Cardellini receives ample screen time in the slow-starting, yet emotional, season premiere as she feverishly searches for her missing diabetic son. Dr. Pratt (Mekhi Phifer) meets an important person from his past. Shane West continues his role as the arrogant Dr. Ray Barnett. English actress Parminder Nagra—most known from the wildly popular Bend It Like Beckham—continues her role as the intellectual, quick-thinking Dr. Neela Rasgotra. Nagra is especially enjoyable to watch as her character struggles with the difficulties of having a husband, Dr. Michael Gallant (Sharif Atkins), enlisted in the armed forces. Scott Grimes is the loveable, yet irritating, Dr. Archie Morris whose unlikely meeting with people from his past is a comical highlight of the season.
We’re introduced to new characters played by John Leguizamo, Third Rock from the Sun’s Kristen Johnston, and John Stamos. Film veterans Danny Glover and James Woods make notable guest appearances and there is a five-episode guest appearance by Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’s Kat Dennings.
What impressed me most about this season was the range each character expressed while still maintaining their individuality. There is a little bit revealed in each episode about these people—some more than others—and none of it ever seems forced. The ability to keep the writing sharp after 12 seasons is an impressive feat that didn’t seem to help the show’s ratings much in the wake of shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy.
Regardless, there’s an edge to E.R that its contemporaries often replace with larger-than-life characters, shock-factor and active soundtracks. There’s hardly any music featured in the show—something I think enhances its intimacy. The episodes are dialog-dominated, which would be a problem if the acting was less than stellar. Luckily, it isn’t. The ensemble works like a well oiled machine. The storylines are captivating without being melodramatic or unrealistic. There’s also a humor to the show that is more parts smart than shtick. E.R may not have maintained its top ratings for the duration of its run, but if the 12th season is any indication, it certainly maintained its keen sense of the complexity of humanity.
Season 12 of E.R is presented in a “matted” Widescreen format, preserving its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The colors are vibrant and bold—nicely showing off the gallons of fake, sanguine blood seen in every episode. Both contrast and sharpness are excellent, as are the black levels which are displayed in several of the shows night-time scenes.
Audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound with English as the only spoken language available. There are, however, subtitles in English, French, Portuguese and Japanese. The audio is crisp—keeping the dialog front and center at all times. The musical soundtrack is relatively sparse except for the lively opening credits and short segments of music during intense scenes. Wailing ambulance sirens and frequent gunshots add a nice pop for the surround sound. Ambient sound never distracts; instead it mixes nicely with the dialog during emergency room scenes and portions of the show that take place outside in the city of Chicago.
Special features are unaired scenes of various lengths called “Outpatient Outtakes.” While they are featured on every disc, they aren’t featured on every episode. Bonus scenes can be accessed from the root menu and are also denoted by a pair of scissors next to the episode’s title.
E.R starts building the story lines that will carry the show into its final three seasons. Throughout the 22 episodes of season 12, characters come and go—in the hospital and in life—which helps keep the show lively. Instead of focusing on one or two characters for the majority of the season, E.R excels at keeping multiple storylines moving at once. The explosive season finale is a classic primetime cliffhanger, and fans will definitely be interested to find out how it’s resolved in season 13. Although the bonus features are sparse, sharp audio and pristine video quality makes for a nice addition to this series’ DVD collection.