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DVD Review: ER – The Complete Eleventh Season

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Set in the Emergency Room at Chicago's County General Hospital, ER is a gritty, heart-pounding glimpse of how brisk decisions can save lives -and how one mistake can prove fatal. The show launched George Clooney's career and featured a stellar cast that included Julianna Margulies, Laura Innes, Anthony Edwards, Eriq La Salle, Noah Wyle, Sherry Stringfield, and others throughout the series' run. The combination of absorbing plot lines, compelling characters, top-notch performances, and realistic depictions of life in the ER attracted millions of fans each week. The eleventh season features more pulse-pounding medical incidents as well as significant lineup changes: long-time regular, Dr. Carter (Noah Wyle), decides to leave County General, and a new doctor, Ray Barnett (Shane West), enters it.

Season eleven opens with Pratt (Mekhi Phifer), Chen (Ming-Na), and Elgin (James Earl) being rescued after barely escaping a crash into the Chicago river (well…except for Elgin); two new interns, most notably, Dr. Ray Barnett (West), entering County General; and the once-nurse Abby beginning her career as a doctor. Much like past seasons, each episode features a collection of primarily episodic plot lines that revolve around each of the show's main characters.

Sadly, many of the episodes don't seem to have the kind of power and passion behind them that previous ones did, but, by far, "Time of Death" is the standout episode for the season. Unlike the traditional ER pattern, it consists of just one plot line with no side stories that takes place in real-time, chronicling the final 43 minutes of Charlie Metcalf's (Ray Liotta) life. Liotta plays an alcoholic on death's door who attempts to make amends with his son. His performance, which won a well-deserved Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, makes this episode come alive, sticking with viewers long after it's finished.

Other guest stars this season include Red Buttons, Danny Glover, Cynthia Nixon, Francis Fisher, Sharif Atkins, and others.

The rest of the cast does a phenomenal job with the material they are given. However, the biggest loss of the season is the end of Wyle's tenure as Dr. Carter. He will certainly be missed in future seasons of ER (even though he does make the occasional guest appearance).

The special features for season eleven follow the same trend as most of the previous seasons' boxed set – except this time there's no gag reel, only a collection of deleted scenes or "Outpatient Outtakes." Each tends to be really short and seems to add very little to the show overall, while this explains why the scenes were cut, it makes one wonder why they were even included at all other than to give hard-core fans the complete experience of the show. The episodes that feature deleted scenes are “One of the Road,” “Damaged,” “Try Carter,” “Fear,” “White Guy, Dark Hair,” “A Shot in the Dark,” “Skin,” “Only Connect,” “The Providers,” “Middlemen,” “Alone in the Crowd,” “Here & There,” “Back in the World,” “Ruby Redux,” and “You are Here.”

From a technical aspect, ER has always looks great on DVD. Utilizing widescreen from the beginning, this show was originally transferred to DVD with an “open matte.” As HDTV became more prevalent, the series switched to a widescreen presentation in both standard definition airings and HD reairings. This DVD set uses the 1.78:1 widescreen presentation, which allows for a very impressive TV-to-DVD transfer.

The audio for this release is a bit lacking at a 2.0 Dolby Digital English track. It is fine for the moments of dialogue during the show, but the loud, pulse-pounding, frantic emergency room scenes that the show is famous for don't quite pack enough audio punch. It just doesn't pull the viewer in as much as it should. Also included are English, French, Chinese and Portuguese subtitles.

Die-hard fans of the show will snatch this one up, but others may have trouble. While season eleven still features the same heart-pounding medical drama that ER is known for, many of the episodes leave something to be desired and just don't have as engaging plot lines as previous seasons. Long-time fans of the show may overlook this, but for casual fans or viewers who may not be familiar with the ER world, this just isn't the season to get started with.

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