While ER can occasionally veer off into soap opera territory, the long-running series about the medical staff and patients of Chicago's fictional County General Hospital remains one of the best written shows on television today. One of the reasons ER has been able to stay on the cutting edge is the writers' and producers' ability to adapt to change. Characters come and go, and storylines change on a dime. Season eight saw some of the series' most significant changes yet.
Season eight hits the ground running. In the season premiere "Four Corners" a day in the life of the ER is seen through the different perspectives of Doctors Weaver (Laura Innes), Benton (Eriq La Salle), Carter (Noah Wyle), and Greene (Anthony Edwards). The idea of getting the different views of four significant characters one at a time draws viewers right into season eight. "Four Corners" provides significant character development and serves notice that all four individuals are going to have some significant issues to deal with throughout the season.
As any fan of ER knows, you always have to be ready for unexpected twists and turns. In the first 12 episodes of the eighth season, Carla (Lisa Nicole Carson), the mother of Benton's deaf son, is killed, Doctors Chen (Ming-Na) and Malucci (Erik Palladino) are fired, Cleo Finch (Michael Michelle) leaves County General for a job elsewhere, and Chen eventually gets her job back.
The return of Sherry Stringfield as Dr. Susan Lewis in the season's fourth episode is a welcome sight. As one of the series' original cast members, Stringfield could always be counted on to deliver a strong performance in each of her scenes. When Dr. Lewis left County General just a couple of years before, everyone knew her and looked to her for advice. The ER she has returned to has changed a lot. Many of the doctors don't know her at all; others, just kids when she left, have matured into roles of responsibility at the hospital.
Mid-season, Benton makes the tough decision to leave County General to care for his deaf son. When we first met the brash, cocky doctor back in 1994, it would be hard to imagine him leaving the hospital to care for someone else. It was always easy to say Benton cares for Benton. There's no question that ER has tried to replace Benton's persona with other characters over the years. However, none of them have been able to duplicate the simmering intensity Eriq La Salle brought to each scene.