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TeeVee Awards '02: Worst Hour Show

The bigger they are, the harder they fall -- which would explain the cartoon-style, ER-shaped hole that our Worst Hour Show award winner has left through the crust of the Earth. NBC's flagship drama series has gotten so bad that those of us who watched it rumble past us a couple of years ago -- picking up speed and headed toward Earth's molten core -- can only laugh the hearty, bitter laughter of people who know you can't have nice things.

Once among the best series on TV, ER is now so stomach-cramplingly, bowel-rattlingly awful that the only reason to watch this past season was to root for the tumor baking inside Mark Greene's head. Any show that can get you to wish for the painful, prolonged death of a major protagonist must have burned some serious bridges along the way, and ER has been merrily lighting matches for years.

At one point, ER was a brilliant triumph of style and substance. But now it can stand only as a tutorial on how to take something original and daring and frantic and effectively emotionally manipulative and turn it into a campy, tiring, Grade-C soap.

"Melo" was always the junior partner to ER's "drama," but in the past several seasons the prefix has taken over the show, like a vestigial head that has since grown to full size and eaten the original. Once-human characters have been reduced to moody, annoying caricatures and once-interesting situations have devolved into a series of painful, predictable bleats. We can only be thankful that Elvis is dead, because God knows what projectile he would have unleashed at his TV set if he ever had a chance to watch ER.

ER was once a show about an emergency room, and the constant ebb and flow of shattered lives that surged through it. The drama came from the medicine, the frantic rush to save those lives. The characters all had their own little personal problems, yes, but they played a thankful second fiddle to the blood spouting out of the guy who just got wheeled in. But now it's a show about people who only coincidentally work in an emergency room while their tedious -- and impossibly complicated -- lives spool out like so much sausage. Occasionally someone still gets patched up, but, y'know, I've got my issues to deal with here and let's put that front and center, shall we?

Why does ER even take place in an emergency room anymore? Why not an office building or a police station or -- perhaps most appropriate -- a high school? Is anybody ever allowed to just, y'know, do their job without some hot-button issue or melodramatic hook getting in the way? Lesbianism and custody battles and alcoholism, oh my! Brain tumors and drug addiction and broken relationships, oh my! Troubled youth and spurned lovers and overdoses, oh just shut the goddamned hell up! Please, please, just shut the goddamned hell up. If we wanted to watch One Life to Live, we'd, um, watch One Life to Live.

The only real competition that ER had in our voting for Worst Hour Show was the desiccated corpse of Ally McBeal. But Ally McBeal had the good sense to die this year and never came close to the heights that ER fell from. ER won by simply sucking out loud, all the way down.

And that, most likely, will be ER's legacy, once someone from NBC remembers to watch what they're paying all that money for and cancels it as fast as they possibly can: what was once one of the best shows on the tube is now worse than Ally McBeal at its last, bitter ebb. Worse than The Practice, worse than The District, worse than freakin' Wolf Lake, for crying out loud.

ER is, quite simply, the worst.

Additional contributions to this article by: Greg Knauss.


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