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Why great things just make me more cynical

Why great things just make me more cynical
Written:
Friday, February 2, 2007 at 12:20pm
On Wednesday, in class, I watched an episode of ER from its first season, an episode titled, “Love’s Labors Lost.” The title was a clever play on words that you really must see the episode to understand, but as much as I like clever things that’s not the point. Watching that episode of ER, I felt something — quite a few things actually. I was scared, I was shocked, I was saddened (genuinely saddened) by a television show. That episode of ER, which in 1996 earned something like 10 Emmys, was far and away the single greatest episode of television I’ve ever seen and I watch a lot of TV. What made it so great is that I felt real, earnest emotion. I felt for the characters, I was with them, I wanted the patients to live.

The episode is all about a pregnant woman who comes into the hospital and is misdiagnosed with a UTI, when actually she’s got some acute blood disease. The ER staff must deliver the baby early and when inducing labor doesn’t work, the Anthony Edwards character (I forget what his name is on the show) is forced to make an emergency c-section. He botches the surgery and kills the mother, but manages to save the baby who he gives to the father. After the wife has died and all hope has been lost, Edwards must tell the husband that his wife has died. This was powerful. The direction, the acting, the writing, everything worked amazingly and it was smart, real, raw television.

It wasn’t that we were watching some important celebrity on the cutting table, it was that we’d spent the past 20 minutes meeting this woman, just like the doctors had, and we didn’t want her to die. I didn’t know her, but I really didn’t want her to die. As she lay lifeless on the operating table, it broke my heart. I didn’t even care that it wasn’t real and that the actress was actually fine or that Anthony Edwards probably masturbated to previous episodes just like this one in his hotel room, thinking about how amazing he was back then. I forgot I was watching a TV show and for the last 20 minutes of the show I was wholly engulfed. That is what great television is.

So, last night I watched a new episode of ER, with special guest star Forrest Whitaker. Forrest played some sort of kidnapper who was holding Maura Tierny hostage and all I could think the whole time was, ‘I really hope he kills her, because at least that would be different.’ I wasn’t moved, I didn’t care. The episode failed in its attempts to be different and emotional like it has every other time I watched it and this just pissed me off. I had to turn off the TV because I couldn’t deal with watching a show that was once so amazing and is now such absolute garbage. The entire original cast is gone and so are the original ideas. I think NBC still owes Maura something like $1 million in back pay, but they should really just put this show out of its misery. I feel bad for Mekhai Pfifer, because he’s such a good actor and he keeps taking these God awful mop up jobs to pay the rent.

Watching that old episode of ER was like listening to Marvin Gaye’s album “What’s Going On” and then turning on the radio to hear all the pre-packaged, sanitized-for-your-protection, soulless, meaningless shit they call music now, on the radio. It just pisses me off, but more than that, it makes me loathe pop culture. Which makes me even more cynical, and that’s hard to do.

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