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Crouching Doctor, Hidden Benton

Dear reader, my heart is somber with reverence as I write these lines. On this night, a momentous occasion shall come to pass, one that marks the ending of an era. It will be a night of wistful reminiscence, coupled, ironically, with great joy. For tonight is the night I can finally stop watching ER.

After seven long years, original cast member Eriq La Salle is leaving the cast of NBC's Thursday night medical powerhouse, thus providing me the final excuse I needed to stop tuning in to the damned thing every week.

Not that I haven't had other reasons to give up on ER It's been years since I gave a crap about the so-called plotlines. There are, after all, only so many ways that a person can get splattered with barf, or almost catch AIDS, or have some embarrassing object removed from his rectum. And I already saw most of them during college.

Also long gone is my affection for the ensemble cast, which I guess isn't too surprising, because so is the ensemble cast.

But I was hanging on for Eriq. And not for his acting prowess. Oh, don't get me wrong! Eriq hits perfectly the one note required to portray his character, the driven Dr. Peter Benton. And that snappy "q" at the end of his name adds some much-needed pizzazz to the cast list, especially now that Ming-Na is gone again.

In truth, though, I've labored on with ER for lo these many years, through the bad times and the slightly less bad, the magically disappearing story arcs and the horror that is Erik Palladino, for one single, solitary reason: that thing Eriq La Salle does in the opening credits.

You know what I'm talking about. That karate chop thing where he goes down on one knee and he does some sort of kooky zen thing with his hands and the music rises to a crescendo and then, Haiiiii-YA!

It's just so fucking bad-ass.

So fucking bad-ass, in fact, that at some point during season two I was actually roused to leave my seat and perform the move along with him. And again the next week. And the next week after that. Until now, six years later, we find me still doing "The Benton" religiously at the start of each and every episode.

(Note that this excludes reruns, which I had to stop doing in 1998 after collapsing from exhaustion. Those syndicating sons of bitches at TNT almost killed me.)

Now I'm no Mr. Miyagi, but I suspect that six years is a long time to be practicing one kata. I like to believe that I have attained perfection in this one. There was one brief disruption in my training when Paul McCrane became a regular cast member, and the bastards moved The Benton from the middle of the credit sequence to the end. But being forced to adapt has only made me stronger.

As the music swells, I crouch to the exact Benton depth, my forearm hair rippling lightly as I pull my right hand around and through my center of gravity. My left arm extends, the palm flexed upwards to the heavens, as though exalting the Lord for imbuing me with such badassity. Then my fist strikes down with pinpoint timing, in precise synchronicity with the action on-screen. Some even say that I appear to momentarily turn black. It's truly awe-inspiring.

And all of that beauty and grace comes to an end tonight, with my final performance. At its passing, I feel a profound sadness, as though I'm bidding farewell to my dearest of friends. Fortunately, in my melancholy I have found two cheerful thoughts to which I can cling.

One is that I don't have to watch this awful show anymore.

The other is that I can still see Eriq La Salle whenever I miss him. TNT airs "Coming to America" three times daily in order to space out ER reruns.


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