The "received" wisdom concerning that warhorse of television medical dramas, ER, seems to be that the show has far outlived its usefulness and should really be ended (or should have been ended several years ago). For just one example of this stance, see Jaquandor's recent post, or ny number of critics who echo many of his points and join him in calling for a mercy killing to their once-beloved show. The common complaints are that the storylines are tired, the characters uninteresting, and the series overall pretty much just plain worn out. So ende it now, go the complainers, end it now while we can still remember the show we loved with fondness. To this, I say feh.
Yes; I will out myself with rainbow-blazing pride: I still like ER--and not just like, but consider to be an excellent, if not earth-shatteringly brilliant, television drama. As for the common complaints, well:
1) Sure, an argument could be made that the show has, in its 10+ years, dealt with pretty much every kind of illness and injury in pretty much every permutation possible. Any mathematician worth his or her salt, though, will tell you that that's simply not true. The possibilities are near-enough to endless to be just that, considering the sheer range of diseases and injuries there are and how many different ways there are to combine them with each other and with different kinds of patients. They will, literally, never run out of permutations. That's just math.
But more importantly, each case still feels like its own, like its own organic set of problems and resolutions. A difficult pregnancy storyline may echo other, more fondly-remembered storylines, but each brings its own wrinkles. Many, Jaquandor included, took in last week's episode, which centered around a pregnancy in crisis, and immediately compared it, unfavorably, to the infamous "Dr. Greene loses a pregnant mother episode" from an early season. I'm always suspicious when you hear the refrain "it was better then." Memory has a way of coloring our experiences heavily; how many people insist that their favorite band's best work was done--how coincidentally--when they first got into them? But the fact is that this pregnancy storyline was very different, in the ethical dilemmas it subtly broached, in the nature of the medical crisis itself, in the way it ended, and, most importantly, in the characters, both on the doctors' side and the patients', themselves.
I still find, to varying degrees, of course, that each "medical" storyline the show brings up can stand on its own. All that being said, let me also put in a word for the nicely handled realism inherent in seeing certain types of cases crop up often. Working in a hospital, or at least I would imagine, can be repetitive like that, with the same problems and the same illnesses cropping up all the time. That the show after so many seasons is able to capture some of that is, to me, a strength, not a weakness.
2) I like the characters and find them and their stories interesting. There. It's really that simple. I like Pratt's combination of arrogance and heart, and how he's not simply a Eric La Salle rehash, even if that's how the rough outline may sound. I like that they've elevated Morris to be the new ass of the hospital and yet avoided just recreating Paul Crane's character. Sure, they're both roughly the villains, but alongside Romano's being an asshole was the notion that he was an excellent doctor. An ass, but a brilliant one. Morris is an ass who's not, at all, a good doctor. Sure, he's the new "jerk" but he's very different from the old one. I like the story of Luka and Sam; that the commitment-phobe Luka finally felt the burning desire to commit, only to have it be to a woman who wants very different things is, to me, interesting. I like that Sam is presented as not the angelic single-mother doing her best, but as a woman who loves her son with every fiber of her being and is still, in some ways, not a good mother. I like Neela's insecurity married with brilliance; the combination brings shadings to her character and allows for intriguing plotlines. I've loved Abby's transition from nurse to doctor, and how the show didn't play it up as such an obvious move--the value in being a nurse over a doctor was acknowledged and examined. I like Ray's cockiness and how it clashes with his hesitancy to commit to being a doctor first and foremost. Bottom line? I find these characters well-drawn, intriguingly flawed, and consistently written.
I also like that they keep coming and going. To me, ER, has the makings of a very long-term show (well, even longer-term than it has been already). That the drama could continue for, say, 20-25 years and end up being the long, epic, cast-of-thousands, story of one county hospital is to me very satisfying. To me, the constant call you hear for it to be cancelled has more to do with nostalgia than a clearheaded reaction to the show as it stands now. If ER had premiered a few weeks ago as a new show, with basically the same cast and stories as it has now, I doubt anyone would be complaining--my suspicion is that the praise would be high indeed. So, yes, I say let ER continue on, for how ever many years the audience will have it. For those who miss the old cast and their stories, the DVDs are waiting for you. Pop them in and enjoy. But for the rest of us, these new characters and stories carry their own very real pleasures.