ER is a show that went on way too long, well past its expiration date. Sure, we’ve had hospital dramas since the beginning of television, but let’s be real, it’s a show about doctors and sick people, and once you’ve done the usual bits about doctors with drug addictions, romantic liasons, doctors euthanizing patients, doctors unable to cope with the stress or guilt of losing patients, and all that, there’s only so long you can torture these poor characters before you just plumb run out of ideas. Hell, even House M.D. has run out of wacky, impossible-to-diagnose bullshit. When you reach that point you start getting into some seriously loony stunt-writing to fill time.
And believe me, ER started doing that around its seventh season. It went on for fifteen years. Fifteen years. That’s just insane. Can you imagine the stuff they had to pull out of their asses to go that long? Eventually they realized the only way to keep it fresh was to circulate new characters in, and that meant phasing old characters out. Remember Doctor Romano?
I do. It’s probably the most cracktastic, insane soap opera death I’ve ever seen. If you remember that episode of Friends where Joey’s doctor character falls down an elevator shaft, that’s NOTHING in comparison. Doctor Romano got horribly maimed by a helicopter.
We’re talking about a long-running storyline where a doctor got his arm amputated by a tail rotor, developed an irrational fear of helicopters… which turned out to not be that irrational when weeks later, another helicopter proceeded to get caught in sudden windshear and dropped directly on his head.
Thing is, though, it really should have saved ER. Come on, now, that’s undoubtedly the most retarded thing you’ve ever heard, but it’s also AWESOMELY retarded. You just don’t see this kind of shit every day. And I’ll be honest, it took balls to kill off a character in an otherwise serious drama in such a hilarious fashion. No brains, but massive cojones. If ER had only embraced that dark side, become some nightmare, bizarre parody of its former greatness, it might have evolved into something even greater! Oh, it would have totally alienated its old audience but found a new one altogether. It has the virtue of being new and original, instead of shambling onward for ten years, unwatched, a shell of its former self.
ER needed to do something insane, something radical, something unlike any hospital drama before it had attempted. It had mined out every other hospital drama storyline long ago, so why not get crazy? How crazy? Sometimes jumping the shark isn’t just inevitable, it’s absolutely called-for. Hell, I wanna jump that fucking shark on an ACME rocket with my hair on fire.
Sixteenth season: the zombie apocalypse hits. We’re there on Day 1: patients come in with severe fevers and dementia, most suffering from bite wounds and claw marks that show advanced stages of infection and skin necrosis despite claims that they were bitten that morning. The doctors aren’t stupid, they know what this looks like, even if they’re not willing to put anything on paper yet. They isolate the victims and start running blood tests, alerting security to keep an eye on them.
Things snowball fast, though. The ER gets swamped with injuries from riots, more attack victims, and people fearing for their safety. People are demanding answers and treatment, and a fearful mob quickly turns to a violent panic. The doctors are even temporarily forced to evacuate until the police (already stretched thin) can restore order.
Things start looking up once the National Guard responds and sets up a military cordon and mass triage in the parking lot, but already there’s talk of evacuation as the infection spreads like wildfire outside the cordon. Nobody knows what’s going on, as the national media seems to be completely ignoring the crisis, perhaps as the result of a government blackout. It leads the doctors into thinking that perhaps the infection is localized to the city, a fear that is confirmed when the National Guard commander is informed that the regular army is setting up a quarantine zone.
(This leads to several interesting subplots where the guard commander starts to fear from his communications with his superiors that the military is preparing to eradicate the infection by nuking the city. Additionally, some of the doctors realize that if the infection is local to the city, then there may be hope of a cure if they can find Patient Zero, if any of them have the balls to venture outside the military cordon.)
Days pass, and the situation grows even more bleak. The hospital is nearly overrun from within when bodies from the hospital morgue– bodies that had no contact with other infected– start to rise and attack. The doctors are now completely baffled, and there’s growing sentiment among some that they should try to take the medivac helicopter to safety, infection be damned. The military quarantine would likely shoot down such an attempt, but try explaining that to a fearful mob of patients.
Salvation finally arrives when the military starts dropping supplies, food, and ammo, as well as relief paratroopers and a new group of doctors. It seems like good news, until it turns out that these new doctors and soldiers have little interest in the hospital’s problems. They immediately commandeer an entire floor and start moving equipment in. Every day, they start asking for specific patients by name and taking them away, by force if necessary. These patients never return, and all day and all night, the helicopters fly in and out, taking sealed crates away and bringing new ones back.
One day, they all leave. They pack up their gear just before dawn and fly off, never to return. The military radios go deathly quiet. The scheduled airdrop never arrives. The next morning, the National Guard commander is found dead, a smoking gun in his hand. The best case scenario is that they’ve been abandoned to their fates. The worst case? Does anyone else hear an airplane?