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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » ER - The Complete Seventh Season
ER - The Complete Seventh Season
Warner Bros. // Unrated // May 15, 2007
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jamie S. Rich | posted May 12, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
this review to a friend
P R I N T
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THE SHOW:

The very first shots of ER - The Complete Seventh Season begin right where season six left off: Dr. Peter Benton (Eriq LaSalle) checking Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle) into a rehab center to treat the pain pill addiction he developed after being stabbed in the ER and suffering depression over the traumatic events. Because ER works in real time, however, we immediately jump forward three months, after Carter has completed his treatment and is preparing to fly back to Chicago and rejoin the staff of County General. As fans of the show might suspect, things aren't going to exactly slow down for him. In fact, the ER is going to keep moving apace, and the day he returns is as crazy as any other. Benton can't even leave to pick him up at the airport.

In other storylines, Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston) and Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) are dating, and Benton is butting heads with Romano (Paul McCrane), so much so that it's effecting his relationship with pediatrician Cleo Finch (Michael Michele). Jing-Mei (Ming-Na) is pregnant and attempting to carry the baby to term while telling as few people as possible, and medical intern Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney) starts her second ER rotation by losing her spot due to a failure on the part of her ex-husband to pay her tuition. So, she has to sit a semester out and work in the ER as a nurse. Also, as a recovering alcoholic, she becomes Carter's AA/NA sponsor.

After six years of riding the top of the ratings, the ER production team has a pretty clear idea of what it takes to run a successful television drama. It would have been easy for them to coast at this point, but instead they continue to go for broke. ER - The Complete Seventh Season, which aired from 2000 to 2001 (twenty-two episodes, six DVDs), is one of the best of the series, and the show may only be rivaled by The Simpsons for maintaining longevity while sustaining quality. Though half of the core cast that began at County General in season one is gone, the magic of the program is how the audience never notices. Newer characters aren't treated as supporting teammates, but instead are quickly moved up the plot chain to take center stage.

In this case, no one gets a faster track than Maura Tierney. Fresh off of Newsradio, she gets a chance here to show her incredible acting range. Abby Lockhart is the center of several major stories in season seven, including the formation of a love triangle involving her, Carter, and Dr. Luka Kovac (Goran Visnjic). It's hard enough for any TV show to pull off one believable romance in a given year, but ER somehow manages to have two relationships develop concurrently where both sides fall in love for realistic, deep, and differing reasons. Since Abby and Kovac's first date has a dark end, it creates enough distance between them that she sometimes has to look elsewhere for her emotional needs. Given that she is already lending Carter a shoulder to lean on, he ends up also being there for her. In addition to her financial woes and self-confidence issues, Abby must also contend with her past when her mother shows up and starts turning things upside down. Sally Field won an Emmy for guest starring as Maggie, Abby's bipolar parent, and it really is one of the best performances of her career. She keeps her hands in the air all through the roller coaster ride of emotions that a manic person would experience--meaning she can be both frustrating and heartbreaking all in the same episode. Tierney is just as excellent, managing to show the scars that years of dealing with her mother's mental state has left on the character while also showing the struggle to fight against it and maintain her strength in the face of it. It's a tough topic, but the show manages to give it its full respect.

Another tough spot in the season is the discovery of Greene's brain tumor. Just as he and Corday become engaged, and literally in the same episode where she becomes pregnant--fully playing out the usual ER birth/death axis--it's discovered that Mark has a large growth in his brain. It's causing him seizures and messing with other motor functions, and the early prognosis is highly negative. As the pair seeks out more radical treatments, Anthony Edwards proves what an undervalued acting treasure he is. Angry and sad about what is happening to him, he lashes out and crosses the street from his usual self-deprecating humor to full-blown pessimism. This makes it all the more affecting when a light is found at the end of the tunnel. The quiet tears that Edwards conjures for us should be enough to melt even the toughest of cynics.

For most other television programs, those two stories would be enough on their own to fill most of the season, but part of what keeps ER so riveting is the fact that it never settles too long on any one thing to get stale. Mimicking the rapid pace of the ER itself, where hesitation could leave a patient dead, the show never stops moving. While some soap operas can spend years in the exact same spot, ER gets right to it. Part of that is, again, the real-time element of the writing. Greene sees a specialist before Christmas, and his surgery is scheduled for New Year's Eve. As the season itself only spans the nine months between September and May, the characters' lives change at a logical pace for the period covered. This is why we get two babies born this season, and why medical students become interns and then attendings and finally residents over the course of these DVD sets. I can't think of a show that has given us more of a reason to stay invested in the people we are watching. We all met John Carter back when he was a fresh-faced First Year, and now we know him as a seasoned doctor getting through his own personal crisis.

This pacing leaves plenty of time for all the members of the champion ensemble cast to have their time in the spotlight. Thus, there is room in ER - The Complete Seventh Season for revelations about Kovac's tragic past to be laced through a story about the slow death of a Catholic Bishop (adeptly played by James Cromwell over several episodes) or even to stop and give perpetual screw-up Malucci (Erik Palladino) the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson or two about being a better doctor. Of the remaining storylines, one of the best and most progressive is the emerging sexuality of Kerry Weaver. Laura Innes has always performed her role with a wonderful empathy, portraying a disabled woman in a position of power in such a convincing, natural manner that we forget our prejudices without ever feeling like we're being taught a lesson. So, when Weaver now ends up in a position where she must finally confront her homosexuality, Innes handles it with a delicacy that brings poignancy to tough-written scripts that never condescend to suggest to us that this would be an easy transition for a woman to come to later in her life. Six years have passed, and it's probably still the most honest the concept has ever been treated on television.

The endless parade of new patients through the emergency room doors is another element that always keeps ER trucking, and fans will naturally be waiting to see who shows up in season seven. In addition to James Cromwell and Sally Field (who returns for another couple of episodes in the second half), several familiar faces pop up over these twenty-two episodes, some in small roles, some with more developed stories. Punk singer John Doe is the first of the season, playing one of Carter's counselors in rehab, and Dreamgirls star Keith Robinson appears in three episodes as a kid Benton is trying to help get into medical school. Amongst the patients, we get TV vets Tom Poston and Tom Bosley as battling senior citizens, Home Improvement's Zachery Ty Bryan as a clueless frat boy, and in a surprising dramatic bow, Jim Belushi as a concerned father who was in an auto accident with his son. Eagle-eyed viewers will also spot the late, great George Plimpton as Carter's grandfather.

As usual, the finale is a corker, full of action and a big event that ties up the hospital with an endless string of casualties. The season seven closer has an unexpected twist, however, in that it poses several ethical questions for various doctors. Benton, Greene, and Weaver all face tough choices, and even Carter is pushed to take a stand for himself. Having seen the shows the first time they aired, memories of how it all turns out came flooding back. I wouldn't call the ending shocking, but it certainly does surprise, and you aren't likely to forget it in the near future. It had an impact on me then, and it did again now.

All in all, another satisfying year for one of the most enduring serials in modern network television.

THE DVD

Video:
ER - The Complete Seventh Season was shot in widescreen and the DVD transfer is in a matted widescreen format. Picture quality has usually been pretty good for the DVD series, giving us clean transfers rather than worn-out syndication prints. For the most part, there isn't much difference in The Complete Seventh Season, though I did notice more scratches and surface noise than in the previous two seasons I reviewed. It seems to mainly pop up in pockets of episodes, like on episodes 8 through 10, and then again for 15 through 17. You could blink and miss a lot of the glitches, but there are enough of them that you should notice a few.

Episodes can be chosen individually, or they can be played all in a row.

Sound:
Only one basic audio mix to choose from, and it's totally serviceable. Some of the more complicated scenes, particularly outside the emergency room, have good atmosphere with sound movement in the front and back speakers.

Unlike previous seasons, there are no foreign language subtitles available.

Extras:
There is a pattern to the ER season sets now that some may call predictable, others reliable. The bulk of the bonuses are deleted scenes. Sixteen of the twenty-two episodes have them, and you can either select them to play in relation to the episode they go with or play them all through an "Outpatient Outtakes" menu. Most of them are just elements that filled out existing storylines in their given episodes, and some of the cuts are obvious, as they just offer redundant exposition.

There is also a gag reel on the last disc, a regular for the show and clearly cut together to entertain the cast and crew at the wrap of the season. It's nine minutes of verbal and physical bloopers and the occasional prank, and they are generally funny, though some of them seem like they'd be funnier had you been there.

The packaging keeps the excellent design of the previous six seasons intact, meaning your ER collection will look nice and uniform on your shelf. A skinny, folding cardboard holder holds the six discs in double-up plastic trays, and the folding sides contain disc-by-disc, episode-by-episode guides with synopses, writing and directing credits, and indicating which episodes have "Outpatient Outtakes." The whole thing fits into a durable outer slipcase.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Highly Recommended. ER - The Complete Seventh Season beats the expected law-of-diminishing returns for long-running television series. By maintaining a quick pace and actually letting the characters grow, the producers ensure that those tuning in week after week won't grow tired of the company they've chosen to keep. The plotlines are involving, and the cast is dynamite, even though half of the original team is now gone. ER keeps chugging even to this day, but ER - The Complete Seventh Season is when it was at its best. Not to be missed.

Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.

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