Kristen Baldwin
May 08, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Why ”ER” is still great television

I don’t remember quite when it started — maybe after Sherry Stringfield bailed in 1996, perhaps when George Clooney took his eyebrows and went home last year — but today it’s chic to scoff about how ”ER” is completely, like, over. ”It’s just not the same show it used to be,” people whine. ”It’s boring, I hate the new characters, it’s a shadow of its former self,” they grouse.

Am I the only person left who still thinks ”ER” is great television? While I wouldn’t call it THE best drama on TV, that’s only because I think there are several ”best” dramas on right now, and they all accomplish different purposes. For a deft and sexy blend of horror and humor, you’ve got ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” For heartwarming, hyper-intelligent inspiration, you’ve got ”The West Wing.” But when it comes to intense, life and death action, there is no better place to go than County General. For whatever reason, TV fans have always loved medical drama — maybe it’s cathartic to virtually ”confront” fatal and near-death experiences — and ”ER” is still the best hospital series TV has offered in years.

Yes, there are sometimes too many actors crowding the emergency room, but if viewers would have a little patience, eventually they’d see the purpose of this overpopulation. When a regular cast member says goodbye, all those new MDs who’ve been milling about in the background come forward and fill in the blanks like nothing has happened. Of course it was a bummer when Stringfield left, but lately Maura Tierney (who’s showing much more softness and sweetness than she ever did on ”NewsRadio”) has made me forget all about Dr. Susan Lewis.

No one will disagree that Dr. Doug Ross was a compelling character — and it was pretty shameless of ”ER” producers to hire Clooney look-alike Goran Visnjic as his replacement — but Visnjic’s Dr. Kovac is an interesting, sympathetic (not to mention hot) character all on his own. His whole family was killed by war, for God’s sake — a cheap and manipulative dramatic conceit, for sure, but don’t we watch TV dramas to be emotionally manipulated for 44 minutes (minus commercials)?

Then there’s the fact that Noah Wyle, Anthony Edwards, Eriq LaSalle, and Laura Innes continue to get strong story lines (if somewhat less screen time) every season, including this one. Our excitement may not be what it once was when Dr. Weaver calls for a CBC/chem 7, but ”ER” still provides a rush of high quality writing and acting on a weekly basis. So please, folks, don’t be so eager to sign its death warrant.

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