From soap to drama and back again

May 21, 1997

By Al McCall

Given a chance, it's a patient on ER I'd be.

The opportunity to be wheeled from out of the Chicago cold into the healing hands of Drs Greene, Ross, Benton or Carter is my idea of a good day out. With Nurse Hathaway in charge, I'd worry not one bit about my ruptured aorta, pneumothorax or my unfortunate difficulty maintaining an airway.

If I'm real lucky, Dr Benton may find cause to cut open my blood spattered chest, firmly grasp the resting myocardium in his judicious right hand and massage the tired, protesting muscle back to life.

I would gladly die in service of the script because the role of expiring on ER is always treated with the respect such finality deserves. Dying before millions of viewers — all mourning my passing — would ensure that I'd go out a happy corpse.

While I may dream of such a career in television, the closest I am likely to get to it is my lounge room chair. Despite the blood and gore, the realistic pain, the sudden tragedies and relentless drama, ER is a TV soap.

A plot line for any episode of ER may read like a routine melodrama, but by the time it reaches the small screen so much skill has been invested in the product that you'd be hard pressed to find its peer. In style it relies on the close in, hand held camera work and the tight editing schedule established by NYPD Blue. In its social approach, ER is a true sequel to MASH — although the war this time is among the civilian population of urban America.

You won't find a lecture on lifestyles here, nor sentimental moral angst. ER takes itself too seriously to indulge in chest beating histrionics. While the producers seem careful in selecting their issues, there is a bold confidence in pursuing them without pulling any punches. Despite its soap suds roots and extraordinary dramatics, ER always comes back to a reality we can identify with.

Maybe we are suckers for stories about pain and death or like to watch some one else go through it all while we sit in comfort with a cuppa. But ER really gets us hooked in. Pitted against the blood, sweat and tears, the team of characters are our representatives: so very human with their foibles and quirks, and as handicapped as any of us by the occasional disorder of character. Their problems, at least for a time, become our own.

And there is never a happy ending in ER, just a respite in the troubles — until next week. There is no option but to face up to them. Make the best of it, because in the end, remember, you're dead!

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