I will say right now that this review will probably be much longer than the other three I have written, which were all pretty long themselves. But I just finished watching this season after getting it for Christmas, so it's very fresh in my mind.
Season four of "ER" is excellent and exciting dramatic television, but I must say it doesn't quite live up to the standard set by the amazing first three seasons. Do not take this as a negative, however. For the most part, this season is excellent. The only problem is a handful of episodes I could have done without.
I'll start with the season premiere, "Ambush." This is the famous live episode that was performed twice, once for the East Coast, and once for the West Coast. OK, so yes, this episode is a marvel of television and a technical masterpiece and it's simply amazing that it managed to air at all, and also that they did it twice, in a row no less. However, I just don't think this episode is very good at all. In fact, I hate it. I think if it wasn't for the fact that it aired live, it would be counted among the worst episodes of the series, if not the all time worst episode. I'm sorry, but this episode is just completely cheesy and campy and really quite awful. It has a whole different look from the other episodes, being that it aired live and all, and the whole style is like that of a different show. I also think that the plot is stupid and unrealistic and only a gimmick for the excuse to show it live. Also, the drama in this episode is really weak. It feels more like a high school play than a serious, high budget television series. All in all, a big dissapointment.
Fortunately, things get back on track after this disastrous episode, but there are still two episodes that lower the rating for me. The first one is "Fathers and Sons" and the second one is "Family Practice." I have heard of people who like these episodes a lot, but I am not one of them. I believe the show is called "ER" and to have two episodes that don't even take place in the ER is just stupid to me. The acting and all in these episodes is fine, and we do learn a lot about Ross and Greene, but I just prefer it when the show takes place in the hospital. Plus, these episodes seriously lack the ensemble power of great "ER." The only cast members to appear in "Fathers and Sons" are Anthony Edwards, George Clooney, and Julianna Margulies, and then "Family Practice" has Anthony Edwards going completely solo! I don't understand why a celebrated ensemble show would have episodes with only three cast members in it (or just one, in the case of "Family Practice").
Aside from these episodes, though, "ER" season four rolls along smoothly. The adventures continue and the characters grow, for example:
Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards): Mark has some real trouble this season. He's still all bent out of shape after the brutal beatdown he got in the previous season, and is still fighting to get the person he suspects beat him thrown in prison. Also, Mark has a memorable romantic fling with Mariska Hargitay, who plays Cynthia Hooper for an extended run this season.
Doug Ross (Geoge Clooney): Doug and Carol are finally together in this season, after three seasons of being apart. Doug has plenty of excitement this year, and a top example is his relationship with Carol. Also, he illegally tries to help detox a little baby and gets in major trouble with Greene for it.
John Carter (Noah Wyle): We get a large glimpse into the family life on Carter this season, when we meet his grandmother (played by the always excellent Frances Sternhagen) and his drug addicted cousin. Carter works hard to cure his cousin of his drug addiction, but in the end fails, and takes the scoldings of his family members. Carter also has some romantic tension with new-to-the-cast Del Amico and makes a controversial decision with a known rapist.
Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies): 'Tis an exciting year for Carol. She comes up with an excellent plan to offer a free nursing center for poor people in the ER, and asks for the help of Carter's grandmother. She also deals with commitment problems with Ross and meets several woman who have been raped by the same man.
Jeannie Boulet (Gloria Reuben): It's another sad but intense year for the wonderful Boulet. She is now back with her ex-husband, but he eventually leaves to get a job somewhere else after being fired from his job in Chicago. Jeannie is left alone and forms a bond with Dr. Anspaw's sickly son. She also fights hard to keep her job after she is let go, and there is a good amount of tension between her and Weaver.
Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes): Weaver infuriates Boulet when she is forced to fire her, and takes some heat for this decision. She also has a romantic affair with a man who wants her to invest into another company, but ends us betrated and angry.
Anna Del Amico (Maria Bello): This interesting character would unfortunately only be around for this season and this season only, which makes it hard to really get into her character. For what it's worth, she does get some very interesting storylines in her only season, including romance with Carter. She also deals with her only personal beliefs in an episode where an abortion clinic is bombed (one of the best of this season, by the way). She also has hardships when her old boyfriend returns to town.
Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston): Season four introduces this character, who will be around for quite awhile, which we are all grateful for. Corday has a year of thrills when she comes to America to work at County General. She ends up in a romantic relationship with Benton and fights against the snide comments of resident jackass Romano.
Peter Benton (Eriq La Salle): Peter learns what it means to be a father in this season as he takes care of his new baby. This brings out an interesting new aspect in Peter's character. He also dates Corday and this leads to some excellent storylines.
So, there you have it. Season four of "ER" has a pretty large cast, as you can see. Although Sherry Stringfield is gone, we get the addition of two new characters, bringing the total cast up to nine characters.
Despite my negative comments earlier, I would like to state that "ER" season four is a prime example of the show's brilliance and an excellent year for those seeking classic "ER."
The DVD continues the high standards set by the previous three seasons. The episodes are in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen (except for "Ambush," which is still presented in fullscreen format) and the picture quality is excellent.
The extras are actually my favorite of the four seasons currently out. The documentaries about "Ambush" are actually far better than the actual episode, and give you a good idea of what a remarkable job it was to create this episode and put in on the screens. The post shows for both versions of the episode are very interesting, too (if a bit too self congratulatory, especially from John Wells).
What can I say? Although I liked the first three seasons better, season four is not far behind, and is an excellent year of "ER," truly. Pick it up today.