Thursday, March 12, 2009

ER, "Old Times": Hail, hail, the gang's all here -- even George Clooney

Spoilers for tonight's cameo-tastic, reunion-errific, multiple-Oscar-winning "ER" coming up just as soon as I run through my blogging checklist...
"Tell him Doug Ross said hi." -Doug Ross
Heh.

The rumors had leaked enough by now that tonight would be the grand return of George Clooney to "ER" for this swan song season. But surprise or no surprise, it was damn good to see Doug again working with Carol, and to see Benton giving Carter a hard time. I've mostly come to grips with the characters and pace and tone of latter-era "ER," but the new people have never come close to gaining my loyalty and affection the way that wonderful original cast did.

I know all the chatter tomorrow's going to be about Clooney and Julianna Margulies, and understandably so. He's a big flippin' movie star, and Doug and Carol are arguably the most popular characters in "ER" history. And I liked them too and will get to them in a minute. But as Peter Benton was always my favorite character, and the Benton/Carter duo my favorite relationship, the aspect of "Old Times" that really fueled my nostalgic fires was that reunion. It was just so cool to see Peter, older and wiser and more careful -- the guy from the pilot would have bristled at being asked to run through a checklist, but I totally see him doing it here, especially with his old protege's life at risk -- and yet still ready and eager to hassle Carter because he can. Eriq La Salle doesn't act that much anymore, but he slipped back into character -- and he and Noah Wyle slipped back into their old rhythms -- like it had only been five minutes since he left.

Because Clooney's so famous now, the Doug and Carol portion of the episode could have easily slipped out of the reality of the show, especially with Clooney working alongside Susan Sarandon. (Ernest Borgnine, our third Oscar winner of the night, had to content himself with working with John Stamos and Shiri Appleby.) But Clooney's a very good actor as well as a charismatic star, and the storyline was done in such a low-key fashion that it never felt like the return of the conquering hero. Slip him into a pair of scrubs, put his hair back into the old caesar cut, and he's Doug. Easy.

What I really appreciated about the organ donation storyline was how little the various characters knew anything of the larger picture. Nobody knew that the kidney was going to Carter -- not even Sam, who dropped it off at Northwestern -- and during the brief scene where Doug tried to find common ground with Sam and Neela, it worked that most of the people he knew were long gone from County. I think it would have rang false if they sat around and swapped Kerry Weaver stories, or if Carol came in and bonded with Sam (who has assumed the role Carol used to play on the show, like it or not). The only way the coincidence of Doug and Carol saving Carter's life works is if it's a total coincidence, and if nobody finds out about it, and it felt less cheesey and more natural for Doug to come across to Neela and Sam as some guy who worked at County so long ago that they barely know any of the same doctors.

Not an all-time episode, by any means, but it did the job it was meant to do. It gave us one final glimpse of the royal couple of "ER," still doing their jobs well. (Doug walking the Sarandon character into realizing that her grandson would want his organs to be donated was a nice bit of writing by John Wells, who got hands-on again to also direct this one.) It put Carter and Benton together again (and caught us up that Benton's son is a teenager and he's still with the mercifully-absent Cleo). And at the same time, it paid service to the current characters by having Doug and Carol also aid in saving the mom's life.

Good times.

What did everybody else think?

58 comments:

krysumn said...

My heart broke at the end, hearing Doug and Carol's musical theme. Very nice touch and, as someone who was completely invested in that storyline, I appreciated that.

amysusanne said...

Frankly, it didn't matter whether it was good or not...I was going to love it. I had no choice, really. Fortunately, it was pretty good. It was nice to see everybody home again even if, technically, none of the four old timers were actually at County General. Doug and Carol were always my favorite couple and Carter and Benton were always my favorite mentor/student pairing. So, it kind of ruled.

Andrew said...

Ernest Borgnine sure did get shortchanged in this episode. I have to assume he's going to show up again in one of the final three.

I was amused that after a week of NBC half-heartedly pretending that Clooney wasn't in the episode, what do they do? They give him star billing in the opening credits.

I agree that it was the right call for Doug & Carol to have no idea about the kidney going to Carter. Not only would it have made everything contrived, but it would've made them seem unobjective when they were trying to convince Sarandon to consent.

That said, it did seem weird that Carter's name didn't even come up when Ross was talking with Sam & Neela. Carter's and old-timer who just returned to the hospital after several year's away. You'd think his name would've popped into Sam's or Neela's heads when they were running the names of various County veterans by Doug.

Melanie said...

The amount of screen time by Clooney was a pleasant surprise. Like everyone else, I loved seeing how Doug and Carol's story played out, and got a kick out of the Carter/Benton byplay. I called Benton's line before it ever left his lips -- "You married a sister", though I did get the inflection wrong.

Andrew said...

One more thing, letting Benton have his very own Romano at Northwestern was a very nice touch.

AS said...

I completely enjoyed that. I watched religiously for years, though I gave it up what turns out to be something like five or six years ago, and this brought back memories of watching in what feels like a completely different lifetime. Which made the exchange in which there's this realization that no one on the show--or at least none of the doctors--was around when Clooney left, all the more poignant for me.

Also, sigh, Clooney.

Robin said...

Loved it. Like you, Benton/Carter was always my favorite dynamic of the old gang, and their scenes tonight reminded me exactly why I loved their storylines way back when.

I'm so happy that ER seems to be going out on a strong note. This season has been a good sendoff for a grand old show (exploding helicopters and all).

Pamela Jaye said...

is it Ernest Borgnine night on NBC? I'm watching 30Rock and he was just mentioned

Zehava said...

I haven't watched ER for more than a couple of minutes in years and years, but the early seasons were such a part of my coming of age and growing up. Tonight's episode and seeing Doug Ross and Carol Hathaway again, elicited much stronger emotions than I EVER expected. George Clooney really is a good actor, b/c he wasn't George Clooney for one minute of this episode, he was totally and completely Doug Ross. Wow Good job.

Gayle said...

I loved it and thought it felt like classic ER--and not just because of the familiar faces gracing the screen.

The random coincidences were elegant, on both sides of the organ donor storyline. I loved that Carol and Doug, in the normal course of their jobs in Seattle, demonstrated the tact and sensibility that we expect from them--this time with the unknown to them result of saving Carter's life.

Quite lovely.

SteveInHouston said...

I agree with your take and that of the previous posters - this could have been a sappy mess, and instead it was a pretty affecting, low-key affair. It was great seeing the old hands having found happiness and success in their careers and lives. Very comforting, IMO.

In fact, I've really appreciated how well they've handled this entire last season. It's been very ... gentle? Is that the right word? There's been an acceptable amount of soap with the characters' love lives and such, but by and large, they seem to have ramped down the tendency towards destroyed helicopters or buses and people screeching about funding woes.

Also, I think the young actress who's been playing the daughter of the heart patient has been pretty good. Usually, with kid actors you get either blank looks or total ham, and I've found her to be really good with her facial expressions and body language.

Ariadne said...

I watched ER from the pilot but I was never a big fan of the original characters, I got hooked by the second cast of Luka and Abby and Neela as she was originally. I liked Doug well enough but I always thought that Carol was a cold fish. It is true that Carter had more chemistry with Benton than anyone else, especially the woman who were his love interests, and the moment when Benton convinced Carter to go into rehab is unforgettable.

I think Clooney did a wonderful job of playing it low key and non-movie starish. Susan Sarandon broke my heart. I want her to make a movie with Clooney now. And it was good seeing Benton/Carter again.

But more than seeing the old characters again, I think this episode showed why ER is still winning the demo and has a faithful following in season 15 long after shows like House and maybe Grey's Anatomy are going to be dust. It's a thing called "heart".

Even though ER often got preachy about lack of medical insurance or drug companies or the problems in Africa or, as in this show, the importance of organ donation, it always cared not only about the characters but about people and so I cared along with it. I was touched by the characters and I rooted for them and even with all their problems, I knew they were good at heart and I wanted them to succeed. I cared about them.

Yes, it was cheesy that Benton saved Carter's life by going through the pre-surgical checklist but that's the sort of scene that made ER work, that flawed people were trying to do the best they can. And when Doug said "generous?" to the grandmother and that made her agree to the donation, it made a connection not just to her but to the audience as we slowly realized where he was heading. It was treating the audience as intelligent viewers, something I rarely get these days.

Snarky narcissism (House) and on-going soap opera (GA) is entertaining but it doesn't touch my heart and it's easy to leave it behind if the TV is off.

I'm really going to miss ER.

Pamela Jaye said...

Aside from someone somewhere pronouncing UNOS in a way I'm not accustomed to (and it might have been on Grey's - I just don't remember) it was really good.

It was nice to hear about Reese being 13 and Cleo being still around, and the girls and their spelling test. It was nice to be able to believe in happily ever after in at least one hospital in Seattle. :-)

And what was that checklist called?
I also enjoyed seeing Jerry Espenson again - only normal and somewhat haughty. I don't remember ever seeing him before Boston Legal.

I was curious as to what Carol's job was...

I loved Benton and Carter.
Was it Doug who was asked about Abby? That was a very close miss, as Abby was Carol's OB nurse (though I'm not sure if anyone remembers their OB nurse).

I wasn't sure what the deal was with the plane taking off and everyone having to hitch a ride with the Reggae band. Did they run short of plot?

And then there was the baby and Banfield. Haven't I seen this story recently elsewhere?

I'm going to go watch Grey's again, though I won't finish before 1.
Private Practice can wait. :-)

(has anyone heard of prophylactic gastrectomy?)

jim treacher said...

I can't believe Doug's entire stay there was just casing the joint so he and 10 or 11 or 12 of his friends could heist the hospital pharmacy.

Louis said...

"...like it had only been give minutes since he left. "

I'm thinking you wanted 'five' there Alan.

Mark Snyder said...

Benton and Cleo have been together all these years and never had kids?

Andrew said...

Benton and Cleo have been together all these years and never had kids?

Cyborgs can't have kids.

Michael said...

I had a nostalgic smile during the whole episode. Clooney and Marguiles slipped right back into their roles as if they had never left. With Benton in this episode, and having seen Romano, Weaver, and Boulet earlier in the season, I think the only "name" character not to come back yet is Susan Lewis.

Only 3 episodes left? With Leno taking over the late spot, it's the end of an era at NBC. Since 1981, Thursday night has belonged to NBC, from Hill Street Blues to LA Law to ER.

mo pie said...

I think in your intro you mean Emmy-winning, not Oscar-winning, Alan!

And my god, I really loved it. Benton/Carter was played perfectly, and I loved the fact that they never knew Carter got the kidney.

I also wondered what Carol's job was. Any ideas?

hazmatzak said...

Susan Sarandon, Ernest Borgnine, and George Clooney are all Oscar winners.

Carol is a Transplant Coordinator.

Lizbeth said...

I think they did a great job weaving the three separate hospital stories together. Sure part of me wanted Ross to ask about Carter, but in the end the "not knowing" is so much better and way less cheesy.

I was dreading this episode because I worried they were going to kill Carter or have some other random act of tragedy occur to one of the returning old-timers.

After so many ER tragedies, I'm so glad that a couple of the old-timers have happily ever afters (Benton and Cleo, Doug and Carol).

Gotta love that Clooney comes back and does the job without pulling any star crap.

Nicole said...

Wow, this episode sounded like a lot of fun. I'm going to have to watch it now! I grew up watching the original cast of ER, and really lost the thread about six or seven years back, so it will be great to catch up. I don't even mind knowing what happened! I don't think that Grey's Anatomy knows it, but I broke up with that show about a month ago, and haven't regretted it yet; it'll be good to see a medical drama that does not induce headslapping and copious sighing.

Anonymous said...

when ross asked about susan lewis, neela and sam said they didn't know her.

what? she came back to the show and left again in 2005. both were part of the show in 2005.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Doug asked if Susan still worked there, which she hasn't in a while.

Anonymous said...

I haven't watched ER in a few seasons but tuned in last night. Loved the Carter/Benton story.

But I felt shortchanged that Doug and Carol never found out the kidney was for Carter. I kept waiting for it to be realized and I think that would have been an amazing scene.

David said...

I must say it took me out of the story when Doug Ross didn't ask about Carter or Greene (his best friend). He probably heard about Greene's death, but I would have liked him to ask about Carter. Neela and Sam knew Carter worked there way back when, but they may not know about the Kidney's destination. They could have just said he was back in some capacity.

Adam said...

Love all Carter/Benton stories, and the Benton we saw in episode one absolutely would have started ordering a senior doctor around like that. That's why he's Peter Benton.

Neither of them was as interesting outside of that mentor-mentee relationship, though I do have much fondness for the Peter-Jeanie-Carla stuff. Still, this was tv's original bromance, and I miss it. I believe TNT's reairing them from the start again.

Nicole said...

I haven't watched ER since Carter left (the first time), but knowing the cloon was back on pulled me in. It was nice to see the original four again, and I agree that the Benton/carter portion was just as good as the Doug and Carol part.

Anonymous said...

I loved it. I only wished that Carter could have thanked Benton at the end. Any chance that might still happen in one of the final episodes?

Alan Sepinwall said...

Why would Doug ask about Mark? I'm sure he knows he died and when, and Sam and Neela both look too young to have worked at County back then.

As for Carter, they were never that close ( though Carol was), and I think it would have rang false if they made Clooney run off a list of every one of his co-stars. He asked about people who were important to him in some way ( even if it was ad an enemy, like Weaver), and he gave up after he hit on Anspaugh. That felt right to me.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Adam, good point on Benton's anti-authority streak.

Bryan said...

I think NBC really outsmarted themselves this time - I was so irritated by the ER promo being shown every 5 minutes all week about how "every single doctor ever on ER was going to be on the show" while just showing Peter and Carol - I didn't watch it. I had no idea Clooney was going to be on.

I wonder how much they cost themselves in ratings because of there nonsense,

idiots.

Adam said...

Not so much anti-authority -- remember the whole arc with Vucelich and the clamp-and-run -- as just absolutely convinced in his own abilities. Benton was rarely involved in scraps with Weaver/Romano/Anspaugh/Morgenstern in the way that Ross or Greene were.

The checklist thing, for what it's worth, I assume was inspired by this December 2007 New Yorker article by Atul Gawande, the subject of which won a MacArthur Genius Grant last year.

Matthew said...

Jeez, Carol. You think all those years living in Seattle you would know that the city on the other side of the state is pronounced Spo-Can and not Spo-Cane.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm assuming Clooney made the same deal with John Wells as last time: he'd appear only if NBC promised not to promote his appearance.

Anonymous said...

"I think NBC really outsmarted themselves this time - I was so irritated by the ER promo being shown every 5 minutes all week about how "every single doctor ever on ER was going to be on the show" while just showing Peter and Carol - I didn't watch it. I had no idea Clooney was going to be on.

"I wonder how much they cost themselves in ratings because of there nonsense,

"idiots."

Where have you been? The speculation, and then confirmation, that Clooney was coming back has been all over entertainment news for weeks. And, wouldn't "every single doctor ever on ER was going to be on the show" give you some clue that maybe Ross would be on the show?

DonBoy said...

It was weirdly like a back-door pilot, albeit one for a show that was already on and then off the air 10 years ago. You know, the odd focus on multiple people you haven't seen before, in a completely different location.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Not so much anti-authority -- remember the whole arc with Vucelich and the clamp-and-run -- as just absolutely convinced in his own abilities. Benton was rarely involved in scraps with Weaver/Romano/Anspaugh/Morgenstern in the way that Ross or Greene were.

That's a better way of putting it (I was trying to be concise because I was using my phone before), but Benton did lock horns with Romano quite often. Most of this was about Romano being petty because Peter was dating Corday, but Peter was not reluctant to go back at the guy.

I'm just saying that Young Benton was cocky and impetuous, where Older Benton is cocky but also more careful. It fit the character, but it also showed us how he'd evolved while we weren't looking.

Bryan said...

Where have you been? The speculation, and then confirmation, that Clooney was coming back has been all over entertainment news for weeks. And, wouldn't "every single doctor ever on ER was going to be on the show" give you some clue that maybe Ross would be on the show??

I dunno - head up my ass I guess- but in my defense Alan's site is pretty much the only entertainment site I frequent.

But that's my point - if everybody knew about it why not go ahead and say it? Also (and I know I'm exagerating the wording some) the promos did actually imply that all the Doctors that were ever on ER would be there - that certainly wasn't the case was it?

Also in my defense I did watch it last week but it was so bad I wasn't that hyped about watching it again - but I would've had i known for sure he was going to be back. It is def my fault though I should've at least tivo-ed it.

Anonymous said...

"But that's my point - if everybody knew about it why not go ahead and say it?"

Agreed. NBC was trying to be too cute about not acknowledging Clooney's appearance.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Agreed. NBC was trying to be too cute about not acknowledging Clooney's appearance.

They did about as much as they could do.

Again, the last time Clooney came on (for Margulies' farewell episode), he did it on the condition that no one publicized it in advance. He even made Wells shoot an alternate ending without him, so if confirmation of his appearance leaked before that Thursday, they could run the episode without him.

I'm sure he again said, "Okay, I'll come back, but you can't put my face or name in any ads. I just want to show up on screen, and that's it."

Michael said...

I fast-forward through all the commercials, so I never saw any promos for this episode outside of whatever they may have shown last week.

I had no idea that Doug, Carol, and Peter were going to be in the episode until I saw their names in the opening credits. And I can't believe I didn't catch on last week when they said the donor heart was in Seattle, the last known residence of Doug and Carol.

Bryan said...

I'm sure he again said, "Okay, I'll come back, but you can't put my face or name in any ads. I just want to show up on screen, and that's it."

I'm sure you're right Alan but why do you think he does that? Is it an ego thing? or is there some other reason? PR, contract etc.

Also from a business standpoint why would NBC agree to it? Why would they care if he's on or not if they can't promote it? I mean now that I know he was on last night it's not going to make me watch it next week.

andythesaint said...

I'm sure you're right Alan but why do you think he does that? Is it an ego thing? or is there some other reason?

I think Clooney didn't want to overshadow the work done by the actors who have been working on ER since he left by making all the promotion about him. That, and he doesn't want to seem overexposed by weeks of hype about his appearance on a TV show.

Archie said...

I've been actually watching this past season - and just realized a couple of things:
1. How much ER made me vested in it as a show with some of these older characters and how much you remember without meaning to. The moments with Carter/Benton were soooo bittersweet! I thought of them more as a couple than even Doug/Carol. And he took Benton's advice again, proving Benton's still a good mentor and showing how he respects him even today when he finally called Kem.

2. George Clooney was sssoooo un-Clooney in this episode. Shows why he's a good actor. You didn't see him as anything but Doug Ross on this. TNT has actually rolled back to early-ER reruns in the daytime - so I am seeing a 15-year younger Clooney - and to see him be almost exactly the same last night, except for his appearance - was amazing!!!

3. I used to watch this show in India!!! Wow .... took me a while to realize that this is the last remaining show that bridges those two worlds for me - I've been here in the US for about 10 years now - and I used to watch ER in India!!! The end music of ER is almost (because of the timing) synched up in my head with Doogie Howser because they used to show that right after and I had a bigger crush on Doogie than Clooney (who was a relative unknown then - my, how times have changed!!!)

I'm getting really sad this show's going. It seems like every person in the comments hits something head on with their "pilot-like episodes" and "classic ER" comments!!!

I howled when I realized ER won't be on anymore - almost for the first time last night - just as I cried in the episode where they had the good ole doc who started it all as a patient in the ER he helped grow

mo pie said...

Oops, I am dumb. Of course Susan Sarandon, Ernest Borgnine, and George Clooney have all won Oscars, which is probably what you were going for. Duh.

And I see someone already corrected me on that, too. Thanks! I feel dumb.

Melanie said...

Oh, and Julianna Margulies looks great! She doesn't seem to have aged much, if at all.

Anonymous said...

Terrific episode that shows just how well all the former stars reacclimate to the ER universe. The work by Clooney and La Salle goes without saying, but JM brought all of Carol's nurse-in-command skills and empathy even if it seemed like she was some kind of hospital adminstrator (maybe she's a kinder version of Kerry Weaver?). There wasn't a ton of suspense about whether the transplants would work out but it was still fun to have those "uh oh" moments involving the kidney clot and the not-perfectly-sized heart. And the reggae band jokes were cute, if only b/c you kind of have to laugh if you cross life-saving organ delivery with Alpha Blondie.
It's been a strong windup for this show and the last three episodes should be amazing.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm sure you're right Alan but why do you think he does that? Is it an ego thing?

What AndyTheSaint said. It's the exact opposite of ego. Clooney wanted to do a favor for John Wells, as well as honor the show that made him a star, but he also didn't want to completely upstage the other returnees, or the hard-working members of the current cast.

As it is, I suspect NBC's going to do an instant replay of the episode. Even if they still can't put Clooney into the ads, people are going to know about it now, and maybe people who missed it the first time (and don't like Hulu) will tune in.

Jeff L said...

It's an interesting comment on the power of a guy like Clooney that he can actually get a Promo department to shut the hell up! All they ever seem to do is ruin the surprise for viewers.

I watched each and every episode of ER as appointment TV, right up until a helicopter fell on Rocket Romano, and I haven't watched any since. But I had to catch this one, and I'm damn glad I did.

Seeing Doug and Carol living happily ever after (they've got kids even!) has put the goofiest smile on my face. And as already noted, the Benton/Carter interplay was note-for-note perfect.

I especially loved Peter impatiently shouting "Carter!" while John was in the bathroom. How dare John leave his bed! Didn't he know the great Peter Benton was coming to visit? So much of thier relations (and my relationship to them) summed up right there!

Having not watched in years I can't say I'll miss this show -- but right now, I'm missing these particular characters something fierce.

Oh, and Linda Cardenelli (sp?) looks great with black hair!

chickflick said...

I didn't like how Doug and Carol didn't really interact with the others, and didn't know about Carter. I wanted the cheesiness!

I like how you describe them as the "royal couple of ER", though.

M.A.Peel said...

The Carol/Doug storyline is one of the great tv fantasies of all time. Carol tries to commit suicide over him and his selfish ways in the pilot, and then he slowly evolves into a committed man. Leading to the last shot we'll ever see of Doug Ross, shirtless in bed, snuggling. Wow.

I was also a bigger fan of the Benton/Carter relationship. The intervention episode is one of the all-time best. I remember holding my breath and crying just a little in that last instance, when we see Carter on the plane, and it slowly pans back to show us Benton.

As the comments attest, few shows create such an emotional bond with its audience.

Adam said...

Seeing Doug and Carol living happily ever after (they've got kids even!) has put the goofiest smile on my face.

Her twins were born on a Very Special Thanksgiving Episode, season six, after Doug had left County.

Anonymous said...

i just rewatched the part where doug asks about susan lewis. still irks me. he asked if kerry weave was 'still kickin around there'. then he mentions peter benton. they shake their head and i took it as if they had never heard of him. then he mentions susan lewis and again, the head shake and a 'no'. Most people (in their spot) would say something like 'she had come back to the ER, but left again a few years ago.' they wouldn't simply shake their heads and say 'no' as if they had never heard of her.

minor point, but it took me out of the story and into analysis mode.

Anonymous said...

September 1994, the BIG hype was the coming on TV of two medical shows: ER and Chicago Hope on competing stations AT THE SAME TIME! No VCRs then, you had to pick the one to watch. It was ER from the get-go. I was visiting the Chicago area then as my Dad was in the hospital (49 days). The first ER after coming home one evening from visiting Dad I remember watching the episode that included an old man in the hospital...I almost turned it off as it was no escape from my real life at that time. But it had the already great George Clooney I had seen on Roseann who played her factory boss Booker. Anthony Edwards from Top Gun as Mark Greene. What was not to like??? Been an avid fan every since. Will dearly miss ER after the much anticipated finale`.
And ER's hospital represents Cook County Hospital, where I was born almost 71 years ago. Almost forgot, I missed the opening credits, was that Rose Marie (Sally Rogers on Dick Van Dyke Show) as Ernest Borgnine's wife? "THANK YOU ER FOR A GREAT RUN" JIMMIE JO

TreeHugger & LePewMan said...

Don't know about you, but I had a VCR in the 80's. Watched both Chicago Hope AND ER all the time.

I had mixed feelings about Doug and Carol not knowing that Carter got the kidney. I knew it was a more realistic way to end, but I like the cheeziness, too.

All in all, great show.

Anonymous said...

I loved how you used "Good Times" at the end of your review, Alan. Tim Riggins and Frank would be proud of you.

markhavenbritt said...

As much as I loved seeing Carter/Benton again, it didn't trump their last scene together. Dr. Benton's last line to Carter "No you're not" was a pitch perfect end to that character.