A highly popular, well-reviewed and influential ensemble drama, "E.R." still stands as one of (few) remaining quality television programs on-air as it begins its 15th and final (I was shocked to see that the series was ending, but while it seemed as if it would go on forever, ratings have started a mild decline in recent years) year. The show was created by author Michael Crichton, who graduated from Harvard Medical School and spent time at Massachusetts General Hospital. Apparently, the concept of the show met with skepticism from NBC, but came around after Crichton worked with Spielberg (another of the show's producers) on "Jurassic Park".
The show - which continues to pull strong ratings despite competition from other new dramatic fare (especially "Grey's Anatomy") and several cast changes - deals with doctors in an ER in Chicago. During each hour-long episode, the multi-layered stories deal with both the relationships - personal and professional - of the doctors, as well as the stories of the incoming patients. The show does a superior job balancing the pain, tragegy, emotion and drama with hope and the occasional hint or two of humor.
The season opener follows up with the disaster that ended the final season, with the ER being confronted with the shock of an outbreak of a variation of smallpox. As the episode begins, Lockhart (Maura Tierney) and doctors Chen (Ming-Na), Carter (Noah Wyle) and Pratt (Mekhi Phifer) are stuck in quarantine in the ER for two weeks while the hospital is closed down and all of the patients are shipped out to other hospitals. However, in the midst of the chaos of trying to get everything cleared out, a tragic and sudden accident occurs to one of the medical staff.
The season does weave in a series of plotlines, most of them at least fairly successful. One of the main plotlines sees Abby coming face-to-face with a series of issues, mainly the painful realization that her brother (played by Tom Everett Scott, a fine performer who was seemingly never able to really capitalize on his performance in "That Thing You Do") may be starting to show signs of the same mental issues that plague her mother (Sally Field, who returns here and who previously earned an Emmy for her performance as the character.) Tierney remains one of Hollywood's more underrated talents, as she's able to be both sweetly funny and incredibly moving, and her performance on "E.R." continues to show her dramatic strengths superbly.
Tierny's character also has to try and balance her relationship with Carter (Noah Wyle, who's very good with Tierney). The rocky relationship suffers as Abby's family problems and other issues start to spill over. Carter, meanwhile, ends up the season making the difficult decision to join Kovacs in Africa, and finds out that the situation in the country is more dire than he could have expected.
Overall, this is another good season for the series, as it provides a series of mostly involving plotlines and allows both the core cast and a series of guest stars (which also includes Don Cheadle in a powerful role as a doctor with Parkinsons) a chance to shine. Overall, this is another excellent season of the series.
180. 9- 1 26 Sep 02 Chaos Theory
- Doctors inside the ER face a two-week quarantine. Meanwhile, an unexpected name is on the list of evacuated patients: Dr. Romano.
181. 9- 2 3 Oct 02 Dead Again
- The closure of another hospital creates a gridlock at County General, and Pratt overrides an experienced cariologist's judgement.
182. 9- 3 10 Oct 02 Insurrection
- Carter leads an impromptu walkout to protest the hospital's lack of security.
183. 9- 4 17 Oct 02 Walk Like a Man
- Weaver makes uncharacteristic errors, while Carter withdraws from Abby because of her drinking.
184. 9- 5 31 Oct 02 A Hopeless Wound
- Carter appears in Halloween garb, and costumed victims appear after an apartment fire. Romano's injury haunts his judgement and new intern Paul Nathan experiences his first day on the job.
185. 9- 6 7 Nov 02 One Can Only Hope
- Abby hopes her brother's sudden change of behavior isn't a precursor of her family's mental issues. Nathan tries to help an ailing young woman keep up hope.
186. 9- 7 14 Nov 02 Tell Me Where It Hurts
- The plight of Abby's brother is underscored when the MPs come looking for him.
187. 9- 8 21 Nov 02 First Snowfall
- A family becomes the victims of a DUI motorist. Abby finds that she's not alone when she goes to visit her brother at a Nebraska military base.
188. 9- 9 5 Dec 02 Next of Kin
- The closer you are, the greater the turmoil. Abby's brother pushes her away and a child with a painful double life doesn't want to see his mother after his father passes away.
189. 9-10 12 Dec 02 Hindsight
- A reverse-timeline tale chronicles the whirlwind of events leading to Christmas - and the accident that occurs when Kovacs is at the wheel and Harkins is his passenger.
190. 9-11 9 Jan 03 A Little Help From My Friends
- Pratt sets off the new metal detector, but what's setting it off isn't what anyone would have expected. Ul
191. 9-12 16 Jan 03 A Saint in the City
- Leon gets a new job as a trash collector, while Carter becomes friends with an older doctor who runs a clinic.
192. 9-13 30 Jan 03 No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
- Pratt begins to spin lies after bringing in a street thug injured in a robbery. Carter considers working in Africa, while Abby thinks about a reunion with her brother.
193. 9-14 6 Feb 03 No Strings Attached
- Weaver gets promoted, while Romano gets demoted. Abby handles bad news by drinking.
194. 9-15 13 Feb 03 A Boy Falling Out of the Sky
- Abby's mentally ill mother starts making demands, while her brother has gone missing.
195. 9-16 20 Feb 03 A Thousand Cranes
- A bloody robbery shocks the County General staff - especially Pratt and Gallant, who are taken in as suspects largely because of their race.
196. 9-17 13 Mar 03 The Advocate
- Weaver gets the promotion she wanted, but comprimises her ethics when she does an Alderman's bidding.
197. 9-18 3 Apr 03 Finders Keepers
- Enraged at the demotion, Romano makes life miserable for everyone.
198. 9-19 24 Apr 03 Things Change
- Kovac's surgeon friend from Croatia arrives to see how things are in the ER, only to show up when Romano's on a rampage and a deranged patient is on the loose.
199. 9-20 1 May 03 Foreign Affairs
- Kovac scrambles to find a volunteer team to perform surgery on a desperately ill Croatian boy. Romano makes a life-altering decision.
200. 9-21 8 May 03 When Night Meets Day
- A special edition that jumps between Carter on the day shift and Pratt (in his last night in the ER) on a day when they both handle an onrush of cases.
201. 9-22 15 May 03 Kisangani
- Joining Kovac as a volunteer in Africa, Carter finds an under-resourced hospital, an overworked staff, diseases not known in the US and the senseless terrors of war.
VIDEO: One of the first shows that was shot/broadcast in widescreen, "ER" is presented here in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is, once again, largely excellent. Sharpness and detail are terrific, and the picture appears pretty consistently crisp and clear, with only a couple of minor instances of softness here-and-there.
A little bit of shimmering was spotted, but otherwise, the picture appeared crisp and clear, with no specks, marks or other faults. No pixelation was seen, either. Colors looked accurately presented, with no smearing or other flaws. Black level appeared solid, while flesh tones looked accurate.
SOUND: The 2.0 soundtracks provide fine audio quality, with no hiss, distortion or other faults. Dialogue remained crisp and clear throughout, as did music and sound effects.
EXTRAS: The seasons go on, but the amount of supplements gets smaller: all we get here is a gag reel and deleted scenes on some episodes.
Final Thoughts: "E.R." continues to offer engaging storylines in the ninth season, which also sees both the show's talented core ensemble clicking and the show continuing to display its superior ability to both attract and highlight prime guest stars. The DVD set provides very good audio/video quality, but I would loved to have had a few additional extras - a commentary or a behind-the-scenes look at one or two of the season's stronger episodes. Still, recommended.