Ahh. The wonders of having a web site. I got an email the other day that said, hey, St. Elsewhere Season 1 is coming out on DVD, how would you feel about mentioning the release on you site and maybe write up a little something about it. We'll even send you a copy for your perusal.
Are ya kidding me? I fricking love St. Elsewhere. Don't have to ask me twice to write about it. And it was at the top of my "To Buy" list to start with anyway. You want to hook me up for free. God bless you!
My biggest problem is how to sum up quickly why this show was so good and so worth checking out.
St. Elsewhere basically reinvented the medical drama. Before St. Elsewhere medical dramas were pretty episodic. Each episode was pretty self contain. St. Elsewhere brought in the long running plots now common on medical shows. Similarly it was the first medical show to have plots centering on the personal lives of the characters as well as the medical plots. And it did all this much better, in my opinion, than the current batch of medical shows. I love ER but it's no St. Elsewhere.
St. Elsewhere also has an amazingly expansive cast. The doctors and nurses aren't the only ones featured but also orderlies, maintenance staff... they get that a lot of types of people make a hospital go. Even though it is one shot character, they even have a scene in the first season where one of the doctors has a nice little conversation with a member of the cleaning staff that is just there to say, yes, the cleaning staff are people, they are part of the hospital. Maybe it sounds silly but it really gives the show a richer texture.
Sticking to the cast... I get frustrated with a lot of dramas because the supporting cast can have a sort of revolving door. For example, NYPD Blue was a good show but the supporting cast was very fluid. Often it felt like the reason for this was the supporting players were good actors who knew they weren't going to get to be more than "the girlfriend". They wouldn't likely get juicy stuff to do. So they would often move on to other shows and stronger roles. One of the things I like about St. Elsewhere is that there wasn't a revolving door problem. I mean characters came and went but usually due to where the plot on the show led, not because actors felt they would never get the spotlight. Because, really, nearly every character on St. Elsewhere gets to have the spotlight at some point.
Oh, there is also the matter of the guest stars. A lot of older shows are fun to watch if just to see now famous actors popping up in early supporting roles. With St. Elsewhere though it's extra cool because most of the time it isn't someone popping up in some nothing role. Usually you're getting to see a future star really work his dramatic muscles for the first time. Tim Robbins as a rich young punk turned terrorist. Ray Liotta practicing his tough guy muscles years before Goodfellas. Where else are you going to see Ray Liotta throwing down with Howie Mandel? How about Malcolm In The Middle mom Jane Kaczmarek in a multi-episode run as a nurse? Before Michael Madsen made cinema history chopping off ears in Resevoir Dogs, he brought a race riot to the doors of St. Elsewhere. Okay, Rae Don Chong and Ally Sheedy didn't get quite as much to do but they still make you do a double take when they pop up. Plus you get Doris Roberts in the role that won her her first Emmy.
There are also the folks who were already big names when they guest starred. James Coco, Tom Hulce (Animal House and Amadeus!), Melody Anderson of Flash Gordon fame (yowza), SNL vet Laraine Newman, Spinal Tapper Christopher Guest, Keenan Wynn... You get great actors and soon-to-be great actors.
Speaking of which, I haven't even gotten to the regular actors and the folks behind the scenes. Just tons of amazing people. The creators of the show, Joshua Brand and John Falsey, would go on to create Northern Exposure. The most obvious onscreen talent that has to be mentioned is Denzel Washington. I've read some other places that say, "Oh, well, they under-used him." Bah! It's an ensemble show. He got good stuff to do. Then you have David Morse who went on to do Contact, Twelve Monkeys, etc. With his run on House as the cop out to destroy Dr. House, it's fun to see him so much younger playing an idealistic young doctor that would make Dr. House sick. Ed Begley Jr. is great as the talented but bumbling Dr. Ehrlich. And, yes, Howie Mandel in his dramatic debut. Seriously, he's good. It actually bugs me that since St. Elsewhere he hasn't done any more dramatic work. No, really!
I could go on and on about the cast. Ain't even touched the surface. Ed Flanders, Norman Lloyd... William Daniels as spitfire Dr. Mark Craig! I'll cut to the chase with Terence Knox as Dr. Peter White. Peter White is pretty iconic of the changes St. Elsewhere brought about. Before St. Elsewhere, doctors on medical shows were the heroes. They might mess up but they were the good guys. Peter White might have been the first doctor on a medical drama who... was just flawed and awful. You start out with him as the doctor struggling to hold down his residency and keep his marriage alive. Then you watch as he just goes downhill from there. Yelling at and berating patients, misdiagnosing people, prescribing the wrong treatments, getting hooked on drugs to keep himself going. He was a mess! His character broke the rules of what a TV doctor should be. And I'm not even getting into what happens after season 1. He only gets worse, which is good for us.
One more thing that has to be pointed out about St. Elsewhere. In addition to being a solid drama, the show also was chock full of amazing humor. I guess the makers of the show got in trouble for being too dark, but for me the dark stuff was balanced by the show's strange, often surreal humor. Off the top of my head, there is a scene where a doctor comes into the morgue asking for the results of the Neilson autopsy. The doctor in the morgue says, "You mean the man who died watching TV with his family?" Come on! That's crazy silly for a drama! You make a Nielson ratings joke?!?!? Balls, pure balls. If St. Elsewhere resembles any previous medical show at all, it would have to be M*A*S*H with it's deft blend of comedy and tragedy.
Seriously, do yourself a favor and check it out. The only flaw I can find with the season 1 DVD set is the packaging. I think the cover was designed to highlight Denzel Washington being on the show. Unfortunately it isn't the best cover I've seen. Based on the cover you might think it's some B grade show. Don't let the cover throw you. This is the best medical show you're ever gonna find.Other Poobala St. Elsewhere Pages
St. Elsewhere and The Bob Newhart Show
St. Elsewhere and Cheers
St. Elsewhere and Chicago Hope
St. Elsewhere and Homicide: Life On The Streets
St. Elsewhere and M*A*S*H
St. Elsewhere and Oz
St. Elsewhere and Tattingers/Nick And Hillary
St. Elsewhere and The White Shadow
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