Just when I thought that ER was returning to something similar to its former glory, it showed some signs that all is still not well the other night. First, we get a cameo by Eriq La Salle. Nothing wrong there, as he is a fine actor and his character was central to the show for many years, but earlier this season we were given a Very Special Episode in which we were supposed to “say goodbye to Dr. Benton”. But, it turns out that La Salle’s contract wasn’t actually up; he still owed them some episodes — which I guess now they’re using up in strange fashion. It’s kind of like if the Denver Broncos called up John Elway next year and said, “You know, your last contract still had five games on it, so we’d appreciate it if you’d play those and then call it quits again.” Weird.
But worse, of course, is the fact that the show’s writers are obviously going to treat us to watching Dr. Greene’s downward spiral into death by brain tumor. In all honesty, I’ve seen enough drawn-out terminal-illness storylines on various TV shows that all I can do right now is yawn for this one. The best such storyline I’ve ever seen was a few years back on NYPDBlue, when Det. Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) died of complications following a heart transplant. That storyline played out over just five episodes, the last of which was probably the best single death of a beloved character I’ve ever seen on TV — it was by turns harrowing, touching, and in the end heartbreaking as we watched Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) try to deal with his friend and partner’s impending passing. The five-episode story arc was just long enough to be involving and just short enough to be jolting as all such unexpected deaths should be; and the even better stroke of genius was that it was executed at the beginning of the TV season whereas many lesser shows would draw it out so that the death could occur during May sweeps, probably even the season finale, as ER seems to be doing. I have grave doubts (no pun intended) that the writers of ER are in the same league as David Milch, the great writer responsible for the NYPDBlue story.