Tag Archives: ER

100 Greatest TV Episodes: Twenty-One Guns (s12 ep 22)

A less than regular series charting the 100 greatest individual television episodes, as chosen by the Failed Critics & other TV obsessives.

ER gurney

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a doctor. Not in any real sense, you understand. But in the same way that The Good Wife made me believe I would legitimately succeed as a lawyer, fifteen years of ER provided me with a pretty comprehensive medical education.

Ask someone to name their favourite episode of the County General drama, and they’ll more than likely mention George Clooney in a storm drain. Stalwarts may also reference helicopter crashes, road trips, or a certain hand written letter. Season 12 doesn’t feature highly (or at all) in many of the great episode lists.

By season 12, many people had given up on ER. If not during the first episode (an hour dedicated to the disappearance of Nurse Sam’s annoying, diabetes-ridden kid) then definitely midway, when some disillusioned writer, still mourning the loss of Carter, would scrape the bottom of his high school creative writing level barrel and come up with The Monkey Episode. Later weeks spent a significant amount of time in Darfur which, while enlightening, were not particularly escapist TV. In short, season 12 was disjointed, and watching it was all a bit of a chore. Until Twenty-One Guns.

Twenty-One Guns takes us back to basics. A typical day for the ER staff: religious groups spouting premonitions, hapless trainees, disgusting irrigations and board level bureaucracy. Alongside this, the funeral of one of their own, unexpectedly killed off in the previous episode. Oh, and the O.K. Corral.

The season finale drama is provided by Nurse Sam’s dysfunctional family members. Again. Only this time it’s her convict ex-husband, come to stage a prison break via the suture room. So that’s actually pretty cool. And, for those of us only just recovered from the security breach which led to the fatal stabbing of a medical student back in season 6, pretty fucking tense. Cue guns, lots of guns. Possibly over twenty.

As ever, the heart of the show lies in a crisis, as the nurses and doctors step up and do their thing. Morris, a slacker from the moment he arrived on the job, finally seems to know what he’s doing and, on his last day in the ER, might actually save a life. Possibly his first! And who knew you cared so much about desk clerk Jerry until he nearly died, huh? When Weaver, the matriarch, finally arrives in the aftermath of the bloodbath, there is a palpable sense of relief. These guys really are a family. And not just because Kovac got Abby knocked up.

Few characters could pull off ‘interesting subplot’ when your main storyline features guns, hostages and vending machines. Neela is the little English doctor that could. Parminder Nagra (from Leicester, don’t you know?!) is brilliant generally, but particularly strong when burying her dead husband. Yet even in the midst of her grief, she and Pratt, her funeral wing man, find themselves inexplicably drawn to the hospital. That Emergency Room has a weird hold over them all. You generally have to die to leave County. Or land a big screen casino heist franchise.

I’m a sucker for dramatic American set pieces soundtracked by British alternative rock bands (which is totally a spoiler for my choice for greatest episode of The Newsroom). Nonetheless, the final minutes, from the opening bars of Open Your Eyes, give me goose bumps every time. This entire sequence is wonderfully done and, after humble (shit) beginnings, closes season 12 with an almighty cliff-hanger.

ER is an ensemble drama which is almost entirely famous for a single character, who left less than a third of the way through. However, as anyone who stuck with the show to the bitter end will tell you, the real star isn’t that Kentucky born, pig-keeping, silver fox at all, but the admit desk, the board, and the gurneys. They set the tone.

“I think there’s something going on at the hospital.”

I’m 32 years old. TV is my life.

FCTVThe problem with films is that they’re ever so long.

Maybe if they were 90 minutes as standard (alright, with the odd exception for Tolkien based adaptations) I’d be on board. After all, 90 minutes was good enough for High Noon, Airplane, Stand By Me. But films seem longer than ever these days. If you go to the cinema, factoring in the obligatory half hour of adverts, that’s the whole evening written off. And if you watch a film at home, well, my sofa is so comfortable, and I’m only going to shut my eyes for a second.

I like watching trailers. It’s like seeing a whole movie, with all of the drama and none of the time commitment. And, although I’ve probably never mentioned it before, I also love TV.

I’ve seen most of my favourite films a handful of times. But if you tot up all the time I’ve spent watching The West Wing (which is only one and a half viewings of seasons 1 – 7 , plus the occasional episode here and there) it comes to over an entire week of solid TV! And, let me tell you, there are few better ways to use up seven days of your year. Bartlet for America.

Yes, I once went to the hairdressers and asked for a ‘Rachel’. But I was 14. Who else was I supposed to look to as a role model? I’ve grown up with some of these shows. ER was on air for the best part of 15 years. How can you invest so much time in something without forming an emotional attachment? You have your inevitable rough patches (ER pushed its entire fan base to the very brink with a certain chimpanzee surgery storyline) but ultimately you know you’ll stick it out until the bitter end, before enjoying a suitably soppy final episode (Seinfeld notwithstanding) and mourning its loss from your viewing schedule for a long time to come.

Some might see me as kind of pretentious, but I just like to think I take my TV seriously. When Friends ended we had a small gathering of, well, friends over to watch the finale together. I served food, but cleared it away hours before the broadcast, lest anyone ruin one last Ross & Rachel moment for me by crunching too loudly on a crisp. When 24 made the leap from BBC to Sky (killing off the excellent spin-off Pure 24 in the process) we eschewed the entire following season, instead waiting for the DVD release because we couldn’t bear to see our precious CTU tainted by adverts. Thank god Sky+ came along when it did. I have a self-imposed ban on Arrested Development quoting on twitter, as I find it difficult to stop. I think of Meadow Soprano every time I parallel park, long to swear as competently as Susie Greene, and have spent at least two hours of my life practicing the Troy & Abed handshake with my husband. I’ve been known to chastise people who write off The Office (US) without having seen it, and am already judging those who will inevitably dismiss Parks & Recreation when it finally hits UK screens this Spring. I watch my favourite TV shows without my phone in my hand. And there isn’t much I do these days without my phone in my hand. Including writing this.

The majority of my disastrous dalliances with Netflix end with me flicking back to my recently watched list, and highlighting a comedy or drama series I’ve seen before. The beauty is that, when one episode ends, you can just stare unblinking at the screen and wait for the next one to kick in without even touching the remote. It’s kind of like watching a film. But a film made of TV. So it’s better.