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ER: Is dead

NBC has made their mark on our culture. They've done it by creating a catch phrase that spans two generations so far. That is an undertaking that only a multi billion dollar company could hope to have any success doing. They've done it by repeatedly pounding into our heads that Thursday is the home of MUST SEE T.V.!

Let's examine that phrase. MUST see. Do you really need to see it? Well, if you're to have any clue on what everyone's talking about at work the next day, yeah, you do. I can imagine those execs sitting around the board table brainstorming, "we need something catchy that rhymes with must see!" "Wait I've got it! TV!" While a ray of sun beams down into the room and a choir of angels sings halleluja.

The show that has anchored the lineup of "Must see tv" shows for 12 years is ER, short for "Emergency Room." A bland title that belies that complexity of situations this normal looking Chicago city ER deals with every day. ER was a giant, and piece of Americana, hailed as a modern day "Mash." It was cutting edge, rode the line of decency, and featured a cast of solid actors, none of whome were brilliant, but had incredible chemistry together.

So what knocked this giant off it's pedastal? Incidently, the following is what I'm complaining about in this post. The cultural shift to the SHOCK AND AWE factor, pioneered by shows like, CSI, Fear Factor, and the Howard Stern Show. Instead of relying on solid plot lines and superb acting, show now vie with each other to see who can pull off "the most shocking surprise in television history, ever." I cringe every time I hear that phrase. Because I know it means another boring tv show that is just going to try and get me going one way before jerking me back the other. These days that usually means trying to seduce you with a likeable character and then knocking them off in the most bloody, gory way possible.

ER, again, got behind this phenomenon and became pretty good at it. The last REALLY good episode of ER was in 2004 when Ray Liotta made a guest appearance as Charlie Metcalf. A drifter who wound up in the hospital dying from sclerosis of the liver. It was a commanding performance in which it should have been proven that the "Shock and Awe factor" is not needed to make a show successful. Don't tell that to the suits at NBC though.

The shift is clealy evident when we look Photobucket - Video and Image Hostingat how Dr. Mark Greene and Dr. Robert "the rocket" Romano met their fates. We'll start with Dr. Greene, since he died first, and most memorably in my opinion. His death was the culmination of two or three season fight with an inoperable brain tumor. This stretch featured some of the greatest acting and powerful performances I've ever witnessed in television.

The death episode is one that features him with his daughters and wife in Hawaii, recapturing their love for each other, and re-living good times. Then, at 6:04 in the morning, with rememberances of standing in the middle of the ER watching people go about their daily business, he fades away. His death was as powerful as it was subtle. We can see our fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles going the same way, although it's true they're not likley to have Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's rendition of "Somewhere over the rainbow," playing in the back ground. Well, I don't know, they might, you never tell with these things.

His death was met with me shouting "GOOOOSE NOOOO!" I mean, first he dies after punching out of an F-14 Tomcat flown by the ever eratic Tom Cruise, and now this. Incidentaly, does anyone else think it's wierd that Cruise flew Tomcat's in Top Gun and his current relationship is refered to as "TomKat?" You talk about a midlife crisis, apparently scientology still has no cure for THAT epidemic. Sorry xenu, I was going to contribute, but I bought this shiny red sports car and expensive femal escort instead. Don't hate, I just turned 40.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingSo let's contrast this with Dr. Romano's death. It was quite obvious where the show was headed when they killed off the shows chief antagonist. He goes through a similar struggle to Dr. Greene, only with 100% more helicopters. Helicopter #1 chops Romano's arm off. He has it reattached and through physical thereapy attempts
to regain feeling and use of it. This ultimatley fails, as Dr. Greenes treatment did. Romano settles into life with a prosthetic and takes a new job as chief of staff. He's ill suited to the task and needs a shift in attitude to adjust to his new surrounding. It's just as sad to see the once proud and abrasive antagonist of the show reduced to such a pitiful sight, as it was to watch Dr. Greenes slow and oft times painful death. So everything is going fine, but as I mentioned before, Romano's death ushers in a new fad of SHOCK AND AWE to the must see tv giant. What should befall our antagonist? A giant flaming helicopter (# 2) lands directly on top of him. You read that right. I couldn't make this up.

It's too bad really. Millions of audience members are being dumbed down as television sacrifices quality for the "Shock Factor." Take CSI for instance. Questionable acting, loose plot lines, atrocious dialogue, rife with cliche's, and it's the nations top prime time show. It knocked off that old giant ER. But who will remember the characters from CSI when it's all over? The only thing I'll remember William Peterson for is "Manhunter," which was remade recently starring an apathetic Edward Norton as a forgettable character in a movie overshadowed by Ralph Fienes chilling portrayal of "The Red Dragon."

The only thing that keeps the show going is the shock of seeing grotesque crimes and the aftermath of such tragedy. It's perfectly suited to todays desensitized youth.

On the other hand, situation comedy has taken a step in the right direction with show's like "Scrubs" and "The Office." Terrific filming, solid plots, diverse characters, and amazing acting. Most importantly, no laugh tracks. The West wing 2...err, studio 60 on the sunset strip looks promising also. Although I'm getting an ulcer from waiting for Scrubs season 6 to come out. These show's are an oasis of comedy gold in a sea of cliche one hit wonders and a welcome reliefe to the reality tv / dramatic television fad of "SHOCK AND AWE!!!"


  1. Shock and Awe is Stock and Awful. [policeman:] No surprise here, move along...


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