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ER - Complete Season 11

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

SEASON 11 of the evergreen medical drama ER might have passed as unremarkable but for two things – the departure of one of the show’s original characters and a tour de force performance by one of Hollywood’s understated actors.

It was, of course, Carter (Noah Wyle) who left, ostensibly to join Kem (Thandie Newton) in Africa. In truth, the move came so that Wyle could spend more time with his family. Strangely, considering his years of dedication to the role, his familiar and well-loved character went not with a bang, more with a whimper.

It came in the season finale, The Show Must Go On (was there ever a more appropriate title?) and, with the clever use of slides and archive audio, provided a rare opportunity to revisit the past. Though who could forget Doug Ross (George Clooney), Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards), Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle) and Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies)?

And it was Ray Liotta (Unlawful Entry, Goodfellas) who made such an impact as Charlie Metcalf in Time of Death, an episode played out in real time – the last 44 minutes of Charlie’s life. Liotta’s performance as the dying man won him the 2005 Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series – deservedly so.

Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston) and Chen (Ming Na) also made final appearances – Elizabeth in Fear, Chen in Twas the Night. Sadly, Kingston’s departure was overshadowed by her claim that she was dismissed due to ageism; a claim she later retracted.

There was, however, a welcome newcomer – Ray Barnett (Shane West) who begins his internship with Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney) in the season premiere One for the Road. Looking back, it’s difficult not to feel genuine sympathy for this young man, torn between music and medicine, knowing what fate (or in this case, the scriptwriters) had in store for him.

Apart from Liotta, Red Buttons, Danny Glover and Frances Fisher also made guest appearances – Buttons as Jules “Ruby” Rubadoux, a role he was reprising from long ago Season 2. And it’s in Ruby Redux that he’s admitted to the ER with heart problems but blaming Carter for his wife’s death, wants nothing to do with him. Suffice to say, the truth will out, resulting in an emotional performance for which he was Emmy nominated.

Meanwhile Glover and Fisher turn up as parents – Glover as Greg’s father Charlie Pratt in The Show Must Go On; and Fisher, in a role originally intended for Sissy Spacek, as Helen Kingsley, Weaver’s devout Christian mother, in Just As I Am. Not surprisingly, given the title, it’s an episode that deals with accepting people as they really are – in this instance, Weaver’s sexuality. Interestingly, Fisher (Titanic‘s mother from hell!) is actually only seven years older than Laura Innes.

In the same episode, we also learn why Weaver uses a crutch; and in Carter Est Amoureux it becomes clear why the hospital’s new wing, constructed with Carter’s money, is called The Joshua Carter Center. And in case you thought he was gone and forgotten, Paul McCrane whose performance as the tortured Romano was outstanding, goes behind the camera to direct two episodes – Damaged and Ruby Redux.

As always, the tangled love lives of the characters are an integral part of ER and in Season 11 the spotlight is on Sam (Linda Cardellini) and Luka (Goran Visnjic) whose shaky relationship is further tested when, in the season finale, Sam’s son Alex leaves home to search for his father. And missing Kem, Carter has a brief dalliance with Wendall Meade (Madchen Amick); while Neela (Parminder Nagra) gets closer to Gallant (Sharif Atkins, making a guest appearance).

There is, of course, much more to Season 11 and athough it’s perhaps not the best of seasons, it still has a great deal to offer fans.