After four full seasons of a show, any fan might fear that the ever-elusive shark may be preparing to be jumped. In the case of the fifth season of ER, one might fear the shark has arrived in the form of Kellie Martin, who came to fame on the popular ABC series Life Goes On. Ms. Martin plays medical student Lucy Knight, who experiences her first day in the ER within the first episode of season five.
Though Ms. Martin did not turn out to be the shark, it is clear in the first few episodes of season five that they are a circling. Mare Winningham of St. Elmo’s Fire fame shows up, as does a constipated horse, a patient wired with dynamite, a stricken magician, and much more. For the most part interesting premises abound, yet they are often handled in all too trite of a fashion
This was the year where the writers clearly started to forget that the success of the show in the early years was due to the storylines being based more on the patients than on the staff. The exception to that rule in season five is when the staff leaves the ER. Those stories, though revolving around the staff, are some of the best of this season, with one in particular being one of the best ever.
Luckily for ER fans, the writers regain their early series form after the first few episodes, the story lines settle down, and season five turns out to be a great season. Fans still have the original cast, sans Sherry Stringfield, for most of this season and they all have their limbs. In fact, Dr. Romano is at his enjoyable worst in many episodes of season five.
As mentioned, there are a few gems here, primarily when the staff leave the ER. Dr. Carter (Noah Wiley) makes a few trips outside the ER during this season, but it is episode 16, entitled “Middle of Nowhere,” that is the best of the bunch. This episode focuses on Dr. Benton (Eriq LaSalle) working at a rural clinic in Mississippi. It is brilliantly written by Carol Flint, the direction by Jonathan Kaplan is excellent, and features a great score.