Monday, June 30, 2008

ER - The Complete Ninth Season.

Written by Hombre Divertido

It’s rare that the jumping of the shark in a television series can be spotted so easily, but there it is in all its gory glory in the first episode (“Chaos Theory”) of season nine of ER. The proverbial shark in this case turned out to be the rotor blade of a helicopter that famed surgeon Dr. Robert “Rocket” Romano (Paul McCrane) manages to walk into resulting in the amputation of his arm. This shockingly graphic plot twist would eventually lead to the ruining of one of the greatest antagonists on television. Though attempts would be made in future years to introduce similar characters, none have been as well acted or appreciated.

Season nine also marks the first full season without the stabilizing force of the now deceased Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards). That absence is felt throughout the season, as other leaders such as Dr. John Carter (Noah Wyle) and Dr. Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes) attempt to be a calming force in the ER. No help is given by other characters such as Luka Kovac who spends most of the season going from one bed and problem to another or Abby Lockhart RN (Maura Tierney) who spends a substantial amount of time dealing with her family and her relationships.

The family issues of Abby do allow for all-star gust appearances by Sally Field as her mother and Tom Everett Scott as her brother. Unfortunately the characters are one-dimensional, and the writing allows for little range by these talented actors.

The success of ER was built on the stories revolving around the patients coming into the hospital. After a trend that began years earlier, the ER storylines really hit a low point in season nine as the focus is solely on the lives of the doctors and little screen time is spent on the stories of the patients.

Along with the set-up for the departure of the Rocket, we see the slow departure of Dr. Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston) and the second departure of Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) as the writers struggle with writing for women in a season dominated by male characters.

This season is not without good episodes. The opening episode of the season is certainly shocking, and the last (“Kisangani”) would lead to many great episodes in season 10. The writing is fine, but the focus could certainly have been more diverse. Season nine also includes appearances by Academy Award-nominated actor Don Cheadle as the Parkinson-stricken medical student Paul Nathan. Though the performance is solid, the character appears to only serve the purpose of giving Dr. Corday something to do.

Not a lot of extras here. The deleted scenes are interesting in a few cases, but for the most part it is clear why they were deleted. The gag reel is fun.

Recommendation: This is only for the true fans. Generally the writing and bringing in of guest stars seems desperate. Better episodes in season eight and ten.

Hiya, Kids!! A '50s Saturday Morning

Written by Puño Estupendo

Shout Factory always attracts my interest with just about every release from their company. Even if I'm not particularly a fan of the disc, or aren't really familiar with them at all, I always like to give their releases a look. Hiya, Kids!! A '50s Saturday Morning did exactly that. It caught my interest even though I don't consider myself a fan of 1950's television. The programs represented here range from shows you've most likely at least heard about (Howdy Doody, Lassie, or Kukla, Fran And Ollie), to maybe lesser remembered programs such as Ding Dong School and Juvenile Jury.

The shows themselves are really not all that captivating. Kukla, Fran And Ollie, for example, drove me a little nuts with its solitary camera shot and scriptless performances. The only time there's a cut to another camera is when the characters do an on-air commercial in the middle of the show, but this actually brings me to what I do like about these discs: the lead ins/outs and the ads. I've only ever seen most of these shows by way of clips on one documentary or another, but seeing them as full episodes is really different than that. They don't cut away like modern TV shows do. Some have title cards with the sponsor's name before the show and some even do the commercial as part of the actual show. That might sound unimportant, but you finally get a feeling of what it was like to actually watch these shows if you had been a kid in that era. That's really the draw with this set, the overall nostalgia and not just an interest in one show or another. I enjoyed the vibe here, the feel of "this is how it aired," "this is how my parents saw television."

But be prepared to do some heavy duty watching. Hiya Kids!! has 21 shows spread out over four discs with an accumulative running time of 9 1/2 hours. Not really stuff that'll wow you as far as the actual shows, but you might enjoy it for its time-trip aspect. I'd still recommend watching in small doses though, as I think a marathon viewing would probably disagree with most people.