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ER: The Complete First Season (1994) – DVD Review

ER season 1 DVD cover


Created by: Michael Crichton
Starring: Anthony Edwards, George Clooney, Eriq LaSalle, Noah Wyle, Laura Innes, Julianna Margulies


  • All twenty-five first season episodes
  • Running audio commentary on the pilot episode by creator Crichton and executive producer John Wells
  • Running audio commentary on the pilot episode by director Rob Holcomb, casting director John Levy, associate producer Wendy Spence Rosato, editor Randy Jon Morgan and sound editor Walter Newman
  • Running audio commentary on “Love’s Labor Lost” by director Mimi Leder, associate producer Rosato, editor Morgan, composer Martin Davich and sound editor Newman
  • Running audio commentary on “Sleepless in Chicago” by producer/director Christopher Chulack and producer Paul Manning
  • Making-of documentaries: Prescription for Success: The Birth of ER; First Year Rotation: Caring for ER; On the Cutting Edge: Medical Realism on ER; Post Operative Procedures: Post Production in the ER
  • Additional scenes
  • Outtakes
  • First-year intern handbook:
    • Rosters of characters: regular staff, “consulting physicians and support staff,” and “life support and home care” staff
    • List of patients by episode
    • “MEDSpeak” compendium of terms used in the show
    • Hospital Directory: text-based tour of the set

Released by: Warner Brothers
Region: 1
Rating: NR; but it’s intense medical stuff, so use your own judgement
Anamorphic: Heck yeah.

My Advice: Own it.

[ad#longpost]It’s a hospital emergency room–and that’s pretty much your one-line pitch right there. A team of doctors, nurses and others are there to try and save your ass when you wind up injured or near death. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they can’t even save themselves. But still, when they are on they are on with a vengeance. They have to be.

This is the show that galvanized viewers across America when it first hit back in 1994–for good reason. Those long-time readers know that I don’t have the luxury of watching a lot of television–but I do remember catching some episodes of this thing when it debuted–and it was some dynamite. Watching recently has shown me that sometime in the interim it not only jumped the shark but probably all of Sea World, but back in Season One, you’re looking at solid gold.

All the characters from centerpieces Clooney and Edwards to pseudo-background players like William H. Macy, are all dead-on. The fact that they were able to spout such amazing amounts of pure medical jargon without batting an eye (well, sometimes–check the outtakes) is amazing–and you believed that these people really knew what they were talking about. It’s kind of hard to find a standout amongst the main cast members in this first season–they all managed to maintain the intensity necessary to bring off the scenarios and yet still find time to make the audience care about their characters.

Anthony Edwards from ER Season 1
Anthony Edwards from ER Season 1

The DVD treatment is exemplary. First up, the entire thing is in anamorphic widescreen, so tremendous points for that. Especially considering the show itself didn’t go widescreen on television for a few seasons–so bonus. Next, you get four audio commentaries–two for the pilot, one for the episode that snagged them five Emmys, “Love’s Labor Lost,” and one for the episode “Sleepless in Chicago.” All are quite informative and entertaining, though I must admit my personal favorite was the most sober of the four, with Crichton and Wells on the pilot. Crichton’s story of how this thing made its way across two decades to finally land on television I find utterly fascinating, so between that and Wells’ own anecdotes, it’s definitely all keeper–though all four are worthy.

Next up you’ve got the four documentaries, taking you first from the creation of the show to getting the series to survive the first year. It’s rare to have documentaries with these many cast and crew members talking about their experiences without the entire thing devolving into another round of “smoke up each others’ skirts” that we get so tired of. But no, they are there with some interesting–personal favorite was the brass of the time admitting how hard it was for them to greenlight something like ER, since it was something new. We forget these days how novel it was to have a bunch of doctors standing around spouting lines that we, the audience, could perhaps lose one word in five. As somebody points out at one point, it ain’t Quincy. Yet another example of Hollywood thinking their audience are nitwits, and the audience, gratefully, proving them wrong.

There’s also a segment on the effort that goes into making the show as realistic as possible, from the jargon to the actual devices used on set. This contains one of the high points of the set, as Noah Wyle spouts off a tremendously long “bullet” from memory as they crossfade back and forth with the actual scene. He’s pulling this out of his head from about a decade later. Impressive…and hilarious too. There’s finally the fourth docu, about post-production. And after you watch this, you’ll wonder, like me, just how in the hell they pull this show off. Especially scoring the damn thing. Again, I was impressed.

The additional scenes are nothing to write home about, but the outtakes are some of the best bits on the disc. A sequence in which, during an especially intense delivery scene, Anthony Edwards produces from the womb…an alien infant (which I swear to God is the alien baby from V)…after which everybody in the vicinity completely loses their shit. Also nice is the fact they included not just outtakes from the show, but outtakes from the features on the DVD as well. Very amusing, indeed.

Anthony Edwards and guest star alien baby in ER season 1
He favors the father.

Last up, you get the “intern handbook,” which has an absolutely insane amount of information. Not only do you get character info on the main cast, but you get it for all the supporting cast…and all the patients that came into the hospital by episode. Jesus Christ. There’s a text-based tour of the set done by clicking on the rooms on a wall map (granted, it’s not a self-guided tour of the set, but at this point, we’re not griping terribly) and a guide to some of the jargon that appears in the show.

Bottom line is that the set is an absolute must own for anyone who loves the show. Or hell, anybody who loves drama and hasn’t checked out the show, or came into it late, will be very impressed not only with the episodes within, but with the presentation and features. Highly recommended.

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