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Warner Home Video presents
ER: The Complete First Season (1994)

Dr. Mark Greene: You can't take the fact that I'm your boss!
Dr. Doug Ross: That's typically narcissistic of you, Mark. I can't take the fact that anyone's my boss.

- Anthony Edwards, George Clooney

Review By: Kevin Clemons  
Published: November 16, 2003

Stars: Anthony Edwards, Noah Wyle, Sheri Stringfield, George Clooney, Julianna Marguiles, Eriq LaSalle
Other Stars: William H. Macy, Kathleen Wilhoite, Bradley Whitford, Abraham Benrubi, Gloria Reuben
Director: various

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for mild language and intense situations
Run Time: 23h:41m:12s
Release Date: August 26, 2003
UPC: 085392462926
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- AB+B+ A-

DVD Review

One knows when one is witnessing something truly groundbreaking. Heralded more so because of its producers (Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg) than its then relatively unknown stars, ER quickly became a fixture for millions of viewers worldwide each and every Thursday night. Released that same year and very same day as that other mega hit, Friends, the show became an instant smash, with amazing ratings and a colossal twenty-three Emmy nominations, quickly becoming a part of television history.

Following the lives and situations of the staff and patients of the Chicago's "County General Hospital", ER takes the viewer inside a world we seldom see up close, and presents likable characters and truly interesting plot points. The series features no less than six major characters in its first season, and each would instantly become recognizable to a large portion of the American population: Dr. Mark Greene (Edwards), married and a father whose career keeps him from seeing his wife as much as they would each like; Dr. Peter Benton (LaSalle), an egotistical surgeon whose attitude is supported by his intensity; Dr. Doug Ross (Clooney), a charming pediatrician whose crush on nurse Carol Hathaway (Margulies) is pushed to the limit after she endangers herself; Dr. Susan Lewis (Stringfield), the most down-to-earth of the doctors while also one of the more accomplished; and Dr. John Carter (Wyle), a first-year intern who is placed under the supervision of Dr. Benton.

ER came to life from the mind of Michael Crichton, who originally wrote a script detailing his experiences in the emergency room of a large metropolitan hospital where he once interned. Crichton's firsthand experiences lend a true voice to the series, especially through the eyes of Dr. Carter, where we see the organized chaos that comprises the emergency room and how intimidating it can be to an outsider.

The style of the series is yet another reason why it works so well. Instead of becoming bogged down by long laborious subplots, the makers seamlessly fuse each and every plot point together through fluid camera movement as well as overlapping dialogue. The style is very similar to that of The West Wing, and it is arguable that that show would not have come to fruition had it not been for the road paved here.

Season One:

24 Hours

The first episode introduces each of the characters as we see them enter the ER on a typical day. Dr. Green is thinking of leaving the emergency room and joining a private practice in the hopes of better hours and better pay. Pediatrician Doug Ross is dealing with an abused child whose mother is the prime suspect, while Drs. Lewis and Benton each attempt to console a weakened cancer patient and very intricate surgery, respectively. Nurse Carol Hathaway attempts to take her own life as intern John Carter takes everything in on his first day in the ER. This is a pilot that does nearly everything right in the way that it introduces and develops characters in rapid succession while making the viewer care for each and every one. The first of many, many episodes that rate four out of five on our "stethoscope" scale.





Day One

Carter is thrust into saving a patient suffering from cardiac arrest on his first full shift at the start of a very kinetic day. The largest possible case of food poisoning to ever hit County General arrives in the form of both a tour group and a wedding party that picked up the bug at the same restaurant. Dr. Lewis deals with the admission of a mentally disturbed individual while Drs. Greene and Ross each work on their romantic lives: Mark and his wife are caught having sex in a hospital closet and Ross visits the now recovering Carol after her suicide attempt. After a serious first episode, the show calms down a bit and offers the nice balance of humor and excitement that we have come to expect. Four out of five for this episode.





Going Home

When Carol returns to work, she finds Doug holding himself responsible for her breakdown. Mark works with a victim of domestic violence while Susan recovers from treating a patient in cardiac arrest that could have gone better. Things lighten up a bit when Carter, at the order of Dr. Benton, treats an elderly woman who has a fascination with singing show tunes in rapid succession. A wonderful appearance by Rosemary Clooney (George's aunt) spices up a would be dull episode and elevates the rating while she is at it. Three and a half 'scopes.





Hit and Run

Personal fronts become the focus of this episode as Dr. Ross begins to woo Carol despite the presence of her boyfriend, who also works at the hospital. Dr. Benton tends to scheduling conflicts with his presence at family events. Carter takeson the brunt of this episode as he struggles with notifying the family of a teenager that their child has passed away—but only after notifying the wrong family first. An elderly man comes in complaining of chest pains with his mistress chained to his arm. The show is really cooking now; four out of five.





Into That Good Night

Another day in the ER finds Dr. Green dealing with his wife's new job in Milwaukee, and a dying man who gathers his family together for his final hours before his heart transplant surgery. Dr. Ross helps a young asthmatic girl whose family can not afford medication by giving her the medicine out of good will. Dr. Lewis helps a college student who nearly drinks himself to death. At this point, the series is maintaining a level of excellence not often matched by network shows; four out of five yet again.





Chicago Heat

When the air conditioning goes out on the hottest day of October, the ER deals with not only strenuous work conditions but also the overflow from two other Chicago-area hospitals. Dr. Ross helps a six-year-old who ingested her sister's cocaine while also dealing with the frustrations of Carol's boyfriend, who punches him. Dr. Lewis is visited by her sister Chloe (Wilhoite), who later steals her VCR and television for some quick cash. Personal issues take centerstage to medicine, and deliver a three and a half rating.





Another Perfect Day

It is Susan's birthday, but that does not necessarily make it a good day in the ER. Carol decides against moving in with her boyfriend after kissing Doug; Carter completes his first spinal tap and does have a generally good day all around. Dr. Greene is visited by his wife, and Susan once again deals with Chloe after she barges in on her birthday party and makes a spectacle. Another Perfect Day is not another perfect episode, but rates three and a half out of five.





9 Hours

When Dr. Greene calls in sick so that he can visit his wife, Dr. Ross is left as acting chief resident and inherits a very chaotic day. Dr. Carter and Dr. Benton nearly come to blows after Carter begins to show annoyance with Benton's incessant arrogance. Carol helps to treat a rape victim who confides in her. After several personal episodes, ER finally gets back to the business of medicine. Four out of five.





ER Confidential

Thanksgiving arrives in the form of family dysfunctionality and terrible sadness. After Carter treats a depressed transvestite for his wounds, the patient later jumps off of the roof of the hospital. Susan is visited by her sister, who chooses Thanksgiving to announce that she is pregnant. On the lighter side, an animal rights activist is treated and released after being attacked by a turkey he was attempting to rescue. Just another day in the ER. Four and a half stethoscopes for an equally good amount of tenderness and humor.





Blizzard

A large snowstorm means little work for those in the ER—until a massive pileup on the Interstate brings patients by the truckload to County General. Short-handed and running low on patience, the staff turns to a janitor who was once a skilled surgeon in his home country. A bit too happy of an ending dampens an otherwise excellent episode; four out of five.





The Gift

The Christmas episode from this first season finds a man electrocuted by his holiday lights, a six-year-old who has ingested a poinsettia and another suffering from hypothermia, as well as a bus-load of choir singers involved in an accident. Oh, and Doug crashes Carol's engagement party to profess his love for her. One of the best. Four and a half out of five 'scopes.





Happy New Year

Personal issues and medical mistakes take center stage here as Carter finally gets to sit in on an operation to disastrous results. Dr. Lewis is accused of malpractice after her early discharge of a cardiac patient. Meanwhile, Chloe announces she is moving to Texas; Dr. Benton wrestles with the solution of how to help his ailing mother. An average episode earning three and a half out of five.





Luck of the Draw

Carol treats an injured student whose motives may be in question. Susan is formally charged with negligence for her mistake in the previous episode and Dr. Greene is ordered to supervise her work. Dr. Benton leaves a surgery to tends to family matters while Dr. Carter tries to impress a young med student. A nice balance here. Four out of five.





Long Day's Journey

A series of unfortunate events take place in a single day in the ER. The worst is a seemingly unending parade of young tragedies that come into contact with Dr. Ross. From a young wrestling star who is found to have cancer to a homeless teenager who has AIDS, Doug must deal with all of these issues and keep his focus. Dr. Lewis is brought before a medical review board while the doctor who nearly wrecked her career has a heart attack and is placed under her care. A full five stethescopes for this heart-wrenching episode.





Feb. 5 '95

Aside from an interesting title, this episode features a bevy of emotional wallops. Dr. Greene is offered a promotion, which does not sit well with his wife (and their long distance marriage), and at the same time Mark is asked by a woman who is dying of breast cancer to help her end her own life. A poisonous snake gets lose in the ER while Dr. Benton gets an ear full from nearly everyone, including his family, about his attitude. Four out of five yet again boys and girls.





Make of Two Hearts

Dr. Lewis is approached by a married man, coincidentally the same man whose life she saved and who almost wrecked her career. Ross and Hathaway treat an adopted Russian girl who has AIDS, whose mother has abandon her; three cheerleaders are attended to after eating Valentine's candy laced with LSD. A quirky, yet serious episode. Four and a half out of five.





The Birthday Party

Carol wishes to adopt the young Russian girl, but her boyfriend is against it. Dr. Ross risks his career when he yells at the parent of an abused child in the ER waiting room. Both Benton and Greene miss important birthday parties while Carter wrongly plans a surprise party for Benton to disastrous results. Three and a half out of five.





Sleepless in Chicago

In an effort to catch up on work after he missed time while caring for his mother, Benton works forty-eight hours straight, much to the dismay of his superiors. With his body tiring, Benton becomes more demanding of Carter; meanwhile, his mother's health weakens. A con man walks into the ER, a mental patient poses as a hospital administrator, and Greene is faced with the news that his wife would like a divorce. A nice showcase for both Edwards and LaSalle. Four out of five stethoscopes.





Love's Labor Lost

This may be the episode for which ER is most remembered—and it was the winner of five Emmy awards, giving notice that the series was a force to be dealt with. Dr. Greene misdiagnoses a pregnant woman's complaints and discharges her. He then faces complications following his delivery of the child that threaten the lives of both infant and mother. At the same time, the staff treats a young poisoning victim. This is still the best the series would ever offer, in my opinion. Five out of five... I wish I could give it more.





Full Moon, Saturday Night

With the moon full, Carter extends his shift to experience the expected madness, and he is not disappointed. Patients include nine fraternity members who arrive naked and frostbitten after a stunt gone awry, a man with a case of the hiccups who is forced to come clean with his girlfriend after he is diagnosed with AIDS, and a drunken man who is hit by a car. Add to this the presence of a new ER chief, as well as Dr. Greene battling his personal demons, carried over from his failing marriage as well as the tragedy of the previous episode and you have a very strong effort. Four and a half out of five.





House of Cards

Mark is asked to participate in a seminar based on the events in Love's Labor Lost while Carter and a fellow med student compete with each other for supremacy to horrific results. Dr. Benton is forced to admit his mother to a nursing home, and Chloe returns with a baby on the way and no place to stay. Solid effort all around; four out of five.





Men Plan, God Laughs

Dr. Greene angers the new chief resident by passing on his shift and instead leaving to be with his estranged wife. Dr. Ross is forced into counseling after his previous altercation with an abusive parent while Chloe gives Susan problems. A fairly mundane episode; nothing happens to any real effect. Three and a half out of five.





Love Among the Ruins

Another episode dealing more with personal issues as Benton begins to fall in love, Lewis deals with her overly needy sister, Dr. Greene moves to Milwaukee to be with his wife, and Carol struggles with her wedding vows after complications from Doug. The worst episode of the season still rates three out of five.





Motherhood

My second choice for best episode of the season is this piece directed by Quentin Tarantino. Chloe gives birth, but responsibility for the child is placed with Dr. Lewis after Chloe shirks responsibility. Carter is offered an internship with the ER but turns it down in the hopes of something better. Benton learns his mother has died, and the staff deals with a man impaled by an iron bar. Five out of five—come on, it is Tarantino after all.





Everything Old Is New AgainCarol comes close to getting married, but not before her emotions for Doug get in the way. Believing it is his last day with Benton, Carter slams his supervisor in his evaluation, only to find that he only got the surgical internship because Benton went to bat for him. Dr. Lewis is left with her sister's baby after Chloe disappears, while Mark is offered the position of chief resident, much to his surprise. The season ends on a high note, winning four out of five 'scopes.



Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: ER was one of the first shows on prime time television to be shot in a widescreen format. Thankfully, the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 is reproduced here in anamorphic widescreen for the release of Season One on DVD. Colors are nicely reproduced; black levels do not fair as well as there is noticeable grain in the darker areas and the depth of the shadows is lacking in certain spots. The transfer does show numerous print flaws, and pixelation does occur occasionally. Overall, the transfer does allow the episodes to look better than they did in their original broadcasts.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Surround tracks for Season One are done nicely, with good separation between the speakers. Dialogue sounds crisp and clear throughout with no distortion, while the left and right speakers do a fine job of reproducing the musical score with very crisp sound.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 6 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
3 Deleted Scenes
4 Featurette(s)
4 Feature/Episode commentaries by Director Rob Holcomb, casting director John Levy, associate producer Wendy Spence Rosato, editor Randy Jon Morgan and sound editor Walter Newman, producer/creator Michael Crichton, producer John Wells, director Mimi Leder, director Chris Chulack, wri
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Scanavo 4-pack gatefold
6 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: There are four commentary tracks offered for various episodes. The first and best is by creators/producers John Wells and Michael Crichton for the episode 24 Hours. This track is full of insightful information about the show and the actions of the characters. Crichton discusses the use of medicine and the accuracy of the dialogue while Wells talks about the technical production and the style that the series created.

Next is a commentary by director Rob Holcomb, casting director John Levy, associate producer Wendy Spence Rosato, editor Randy Jon Morgan, and sound editor Walter Newman for 24 Hours. The commentary deals more with behind-the-scenes aspects of the show's production, and we get to see how the show is assembled, including casting, editing, and other finishing touches used to get ready for every Thursday night.

Director Mimi Leder, associate producer Wendy Spence Rosato, editor Randy Jon Morgan, composer Martin Davich, and sound editor Walter Newman provide commentary for Love's Labor Lost, and while Leder dominates the track with information about the story, style, and nearly everything else about the episode, I had hoped for better from this track as it is my favorite episode. The listener does get the idea that the episode was very much a technical accomplishment, and about how the work that went into making it was groundbreaking on many levels.

The final commentary comes from director Chris Chulack and writer Paul Manning for the episode Sleepless in Chicago. This is the weakest of the tracks as the pair fall into narrating the events on screen, only occasionally dispensing anecdotes and other tidbits about production. There are several gaps in the track, making it very difficult to appreciate the hard work that the pair did for this episode.

Four featurettes are offered and they include:Prescription for Success, First Year Rotation, On the Cutting Edge, and Post Operative Procedures. Each piece runs a quick five minutes and essentially covers material already discussed in the commentaries or other additional features in this set. Each of the shorts does a nice job of educating on their topics, including the one detailing the amount of medical realism displayed on the program. Other pieces seem like filler, including the genesis and finishing touches for each episode.

A collection of outtakes is available and provides several laughs, including the recollection of a practical joke that George Clooney played with a member of the crew during a basketball game. Additional scenes are available, but before you go getting excited, it is only a trio of cut scenes and none seem integral to the plot of the episodes from which they were excised.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

While the original cast would leave one by one throughout later seasons and the plots would shift to more soap opera-like material, the first season of ER is a treasure. Highly recommended.

 


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