The white and lime green uniforms on ER symbolize cleanliness and life in a place where death pervades. ”ER” needed the demise of Anthony Edwards’ Mark Greene to purge itself of the actor’s palpable desire to leave the show. The result is a somewhat revitalized series. Any time certain costars throw open a curtain for a bedside consult, the screen crackles. I’m thinking of Maura Tierney as flinty nurse Abby (you can almost smell tobacco in her hair and gin on her breath; her addictions render her both tough and vulnerable), as well as Mekhi Phifer (as a cocky, brainy intern) and Goran Visnjic, finally coming into his own as the increasingly creepy, miserable, and sex-obsessed Dr. Kovac.
You probably already know the show’s vulnerable spots. Noah Wyle is currently the center of the ”ER” universe simply by virtue of outlasting Edwards and George Clooney, but he retains the diffident mien of a supporting player. Sherry Stringfield has never managed to reintegrate herself into the cast, and these days, Laura Innes does a better job directing brisk episodes rather than bogging them down with Dr. Weaver’s morosity. ”ER” wanted so badly to begin its season with a bang: It lopped an arm off of Paul McCrane’s misanthropic Dr. Romano. Unfortunately, he and we must now suffer through a rehabilitation that has compromised his portrayal, forcing the actor to show us Romano’s softer side — a more disturbing sight than that bloody limb.
But in general, it’s been a sparky season for ”ER” thus far, enhanced by Don Cheadle’s guest arc. In the nearly impossible-to-pull-off role of a surgical intern with Parkinson’s disease, Cheadle was unsentimentally subtle — and most of the cast rose to meet his level of acting. There’s life in these emergency rooms yet.