Archive for July 14th, 2018

by Adam Ferenz

This series, about the fictional, eternally underfunded, St. Eligius hospital in Boston, is a landmark for many reasons. Not only did it launch a plethora of acting careers, including those of Howie Mandel, Denzel Washington and Mark Harmon, it also did the same for many top writers and directors of the 80s and 90s. These included creators Jonathon Brand and Joshua Falsey, who would go on to create Northern Exposure, and Tom Fontana, who would go on to run Homicide and create Oz. Bruce Paltrow and Mark Tinker were directors. And the series itself was a goofy mix of humor and drama, bound together at the very end by the revelation it had all been the daydreams of a young autistic child.

It was the first prime-time US drama to have a regular character who was HIV positive, in the form of Mark Harmon’s womanizing doctor. It was perhaps the most critically acclaimed drama of the 1980s to never win an Emmy for series, though the cast, writers and directors were all honored, with the series racking up thirteen wins across six seasons. It was a series where actors such as William Daniels and Ed Flanders found new energy, where Stephen Furst proved he was more than “Flounder, from Animal House” and a series which featured early guest roles for actors like Ray Liotta, Tim Robbins, Eric Stoltz and Helen Hunt, among many others.

Yet, the show was about something, and part of what it was about was intrinsically linked with how it was about. This was a series with style to spare. While the first season was possessed of an often unblinking realism, there were, around the corners, hints that something was off. Nothing mystical, but that this was an unusual hospital, and its patients and doctors reflected that. In part, this was due to the long hours they worked. It was series where, like the later ER, which it clearly influenced, mixed realistic medical cases with extreme emotional crisis for the staff, including drug addiction, alongside a dash of the absurd, such as a patient dying when her hospital bed snapped shut on her, squishing her like an accordion. While not as quirky as Brand and Falsey’s later Northern Exposure, the series seemed to operate on the border of reality, as though staring out a window into a void, which the audience interpreted in many ways, and which this viewer took as the series statement on the crushing nature of medical work, both physically and mentally, on patients and staff. (more…)

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