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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » ER - The Complete Ninth Season
ER - The Complete Ninth Season
Warner Bros. // Unrated // June 17, 2008
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jamie S. Rich | posted June 6, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The 2002-2003 season of ER, its ninth, begins where the previous year's cliffhanger left off. Having detected a possible case of small pox in the emergency room of Chicago's County General, Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle) had brought in the CDC, and now he and Nurse Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney) and doctors Jing-Mei "Deb" Chen (Ming-Na) and Greg Pratt (Mekhi Phifer) are stuck in quarantine for two weeks. The rest of the hospital will have to evacuate, and in the manic first couple of segments, the various doctors remaining fight to get their patients out, with one of them having a horrible accident. And thus, the torture for series bulldog Rocket Romano begins. The trials and tribulations that character is about to start going through make me think of that episode of Friends where Joey pissed off the writers of the soap he was working on, and they wrote a script where his character fell down an elevator shaft. Paul McCrane, what did you do?

Once these dangling pieces are dealt with, ER - The Complete Ninth Season begins for real. This means, of course, new medical students, with the always welcome Leslie Bibb (Popular) among them. It also means a new set of problems, and new wrinkles in old relationships. Carter and Abby are dating again, but their previous history and insecurities rear their ugly heads rather quickly. Dr. Kovac (Goran Visnjic), fresh from losing the affections of Ms. Lockhart, jumps back into the single life with perhaps too much vigor, creating a tornado with his downward spiral. Surgeon Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston) also returns to County General after a disastrous summer in England and the realization that she can't mourn the loss of her husband by running away.

Oh, yeah, this is the first season without the series originals, Eriq Lasalle and Anthony Edwards. This makes Noah Wyle, who began as the bright star of the show's first crop of medical students, the senior cast member. What a long way we've come!

Thankfully, even with all of these change-ups, the ER creative team still manages to find new ways to keep the show alive. While the storyline with Pratt's mentally handicapped brother fizzles from the get-go, other new plots have more traction. A good portion of these involve recurring guest stars. In addition to Bibb, Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do) joins the cast as Abby's brother and one of America's best actors, Don Cheadle, appears as a new surgical student. The twist with both is that they have medical issues of their own: Eric (Scott) has the same manic episodes that made life with their mother (Sally Field, who makes a couple of return appearances) so difficult, and Dr. Paul Nathan (Cheadle) is trying to buck the odds and have a mid-life career change in spite of his Parkinson's disease. Both of these stories are handled extremely well, with Cheadle distinguishing himself once again by executing a physically demanding role with tremendous skill.

All three of these side stories--Pratt's and Abby's brothers, and Cheadle's mutli-episode stint; also, Patrick Fugit, fresh off of Almost Famous, as a terminal patient that becomes a special case for Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield)--dovetail together nicely, and they have a pleasing thematic symmetry that set them apart from the one-off guest performances by actors like Eli Wallach (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), Lake Bell (Surface, Boston Legal), Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother), and Anna Ortiz (Ugly Betty) (though, granted, the latter three were just starting out at the time). These storylines all have an underlying theme of dealing with one's limitations and admitting when a problem might become too big to handle. Though patients come and go on a show like ER, the ones we remember have some kind of impact on the trajectory of one of the characters. Hence, a memorable three-episode turn by Ed Asner serves as a catalyst in the awakening of John Carter's social consciousness, which in turn paves the way for where the character world go over the next several years, eventually leading to Noah Wyle's exit.

Carter and Kovac, formerly rivals for the affections of Abby, continue on parallel paths here. Though at this point in the love triangle, Kovac is the unconnected point, both doctors are starting to question the validity of their actions as men and as doctors. Kovac has lost purpose, and a variety of poor decisions destroys his reputation and alienates his co-workers. Carter, on the other hand, who has always struggled with reconciling his background as the son of an extremely wealthy family and his desire to make a difference in the world using his own two hands, no longer knows if being an ER doc is enough. Personal tragedy in the Carter family confirms for him a need to get away, and he follows Kovac to Africa in the season finale, where both serve in war-torn areas to help people affected by the fighting and other adverse conditions. (This will be a recurring storyline that allows Wyle to periodically leave for a cycle of episodes and appear in less show from season 10 on, a plan that Visnjic also ended up adopting.)

Longtime fans know that the medical part of the show is only half of the drama, and they also know that the Carter-Abby-Kovac situation has remained at the forefront of the show even through to this past year. As a current viewer, the treatment of Abby as an emotional punching bag during this past 2007-2008 season has been one of the reasons I have finally soured on the show, but The Complete Ninth Season proves to be a banner year for this situation. With Abby continuing to struggle with her own alcoholism on top of having to now face her brother's emerging bipolarism, her ability to be there for Carter is compromised. Given that the couple's biggest issue is his compulsion to help her vs. her refusal to let a man "fix" her, the conflicts in both of their individual families offer them plenty of opportunity to fail one another. Their various arguments and eventual dissolution were painful to watch six years ago, and they hurt just as bad, now. Maybe worse, since they revive the grudge I've been carrying with me all this time. I've never forgiven the producers for not letting this couple flourish.

In other couples news, I was also less than thrilled with the developments with Sherry Stringfield's character and her impulsive marriage to an EMT. Then again, that could be just because he is played by Donal Logue (The Tao of Steve), stepping in here to play the Donal Logue character, and I have always had a distaste for the actor. Much better is the ongoing emergence of Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) as a strong, trailblazing lesbian character. The character's miscarriage midseason and her discussions with her partner (Lisa Vidal) about how to carry on are poignant and heartbreaking. Also, with Weaver gaining more official responsibility in light of Romano's accident, the character learns more about the balance of power and the sacrifices that need to be made. Weaver has a consistent history of making mistakes and then covering her tracks that makes her easy prey to the politically motivated and her own worst impulses.

Nine seasons. Interest and quality should start to wane by this point in any series' history. Odds are against maintaining the level of excellence that ER consistently managed in its first decade, and >ER - The Complete Ninth Season is a strong as any. The show's crew doesn't even rest on their laurels, tackling challenging show structures, such as the backwards storytelling of "Hindsight" (episode 10) or the day/night back-and-forth of "When Night Meets Day" (episode 21). A huge ratings hit like ER could coast by just fine, but they remain inventive. So, too, does the ensemble cast continue to remain strong despite regular changeovers in personnel. I'm as addicted now as I ever was.


This may be the best looking ER set yet. The Complete Ninth Season was shot in widescreen and the DVD transfer is in a matted widescreen format. I didn't have any issues with compression or with finicky discs. All the prints look nice, with no errors or dirt.

All twenty-two episodes can be chosen individually, or they can be played all in a row. If watched individually, you can also select to watch any deleted scenes at the same time.

The only audio option available is an English stereo mix, which never fails to be anything but rock solid. Given all of the sound effects, there is quite complicated audio editing being used on the show, and every element continually rings through.

Subtitle options, which have never been consistent in this DVD series, are legion on The Complete Ninth Season: English, both dialogue-only and a more complicated set for the hearing impaired, as well as French, Chinese, Korean, and Portuguese.

There are a whopping 17 episodes with deleted scenes. These range from insubstantial trims to whole added story lines, such as the subplot of a gay couple trying to keep their adopted child by pretending he is still HIV positive on DVD 1 or Abby and Weaver arguing over the maternal fitness of a sick woman on DVD 5. These can be played all at once on each disc as a separate entity, or you can choose them in conjunction with their intended episodes.

As per usual, there is also a gag reel to commemorate the wrapping of the season, just under seven minutes, and it appears on DVD 6 (ignore the box, which says DVD 3).

The design of the ER library remains unchanged. A skinny, folding cardboard folder 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 the deleted scenes, also called "Outpatient Outtakes." The whole thing fits into a durable outer slipcase.

ER - The Complete Ninth Season. Nine seasons. Defying all odds, the medical drama continues to impress, finding new ways to tell a story and maintaining consistent character development. Cast and crew are a well-oiled machine by this point, and if practice truly does make perfect, ER has perfection to spare. Highly Recommended.

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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