The final season of ER
, the definitive medical drama of the '90s, found a way to wrap up its 15-season run without veering off the rails; moreover, it managed to bring back most of its famous alumni in guest appearances that didn't detract from the series' core. However, a longtime cast member dies in the very first episode of the season, which tells you everyone is still expendable. Abby Lockhart (Maura Tierney)'s exit reveals a nice tip of the hat to the cast's revolving door: a storage-closet wall where Nurse Haleh had been posting everyone's locker nameplates. Angela Bassett turns up as Catherine Banfield, the new chief of the ER, with a fraying marriage and a personal tragedy told in flashback--a clever device to bring back the series' linchpin Anthony Edwards, who played Dr. Mark Greene (Bassett's real-life husband, Courtney B. Vance, plays her onscreen husband). Meanwhile, Tony (John Stamos) and Sam (Linda Cardellini)'s new domestic life is torn apart by a tragic car accident; Neela (Parminder Nagra) finally makes a decision about her medical and romantic future; and John Carter (Noah Wyle, who has appeared in more episodes than any other cast member) returns for the second half of the season, with a medical condition and a strained marriage. Fans will love the episode "Old Times," in which George Clooney, Julianna Margulies, and Eriq La Salle reprise their roles, and the guest stars include Susan Sarandon and a then-unknown Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
). As a nice touch, the opening credits--which had followed the television trend and truncated itself into a five-second title card--reverted back to the original for the series finale, complete with the iconic theme song and a listing of both the current and original cast members. The final episode brings Carter together with Benton, Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield), Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes), and Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston) at the grand opening of Carter's HIV outpatient center; it also brings the series to a fitting close as County General continues to hustle and bustle through the end credits.
The set includes the hour-long retrospective that originally aired before the series finale, with extensive interviews not just with the main cast but those who appeared in just one season (remember Maria Bello and Jorja Fox?). They reflect on significant episodes like "Love's Labor's Lost" (season one) and creator Michael Crichton, who died during the final season. Also paying tribute? One of the show's former producers who helped adapt Crichton's original film screenplay into the series: some guy named Steven Spielberg. --Ellen A. Kim