When novelist Michael Crichton created ER in 1994, the show quickly gained an audience and became a mainstay of Thursday nights on NBC. There had been plenty of medical dramas in the past, but something about ER made it stand out from the crowd, essentially redefining the genre or even creating a new genre of its own. As much about the lives of the doctors and nurses as it was about their work at County General Hospital, ER would develop as a show run by a fiercely ensemble cast. The familiar faces regularly rotated out as new interns and physicians joined the crew, eventually building a huge family of main cast members.
The fourteenth season of ER concluded with an ambulance explosion as a cliffhanger, and that’s where the fifteenth and final season opens. The series is no stranger to tragedy among the main cast of characters, but it’s still shocking and saddening when the last season begins with the death of one of County General’s own. The staff picks up the pieces and moves forward into a brilliant concluding season that is as much about the current cast and their stories as it is about the history of the series and its departed characters. We see a few more of the recent headliners depart to live their own lives elsewhere, even as new interns and a new ER Chief (with an award winning performance by Angela Bassett) enter the scene.
ER‘s final season originally was slated to be 19 episodes long, but it received an extension to a full order of 22 episodes, with the final one being a two-hour special. Throughout the season, the usual parade of special guests comes through, this time including appearances by the likes of Susan Sarandon and Ernest Borgnine. The most significant guest appearances, however, are from the previous cast members who come back to reprise their old roles. Everyone from Anthony Edwards and Eriq La Salle to George Clooney and Julianna Margulies to Laura Innes and William H. Macy makes a return. Noah Wyle’s Dr. John Carter’s return is the most notable, as he gets a multi-episode arc in the second half of the season. All the returning characters work well into the ongoing stories, and none of the throwbacks seem overly shmaltzy or overblown.
Warner Bros released the fifteenth season on DVD this month, concluding their ongoing project of bringing the entire series to home video. In addition to the 22 episodes that comprise the final season, this new DVD set includes a collection of unaired scenes from the season, as well as a “Previously on ER” retrospective featurette that looks back on the series.
As influential and popular as the overall series proved to be, it’s only fitting that the final episode would break ground of its own. The two-hour series finale, “And in the End…,” nabbed 16.3 million viewers, the most for any series finale since Murder She Wrote ended. From the first tense moments to the final bow, ER‘s fifteenth season is a suitable ending for this modern TV legend.