Blow Up the Box

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Somehow ER clings to the top spot in the ratings, despite the fact it now resembles Chicago Hope by way of General Hospital. Upon his departure from the show a couple of years ago, George Clooney said that during ER's first season, a patient would walk into the emergency room with an arrow through his head and no one would comment; it was dealt with and forgotten. By the time Clooney made his escape, a doctor would not only mention how odd it was for someone to have an arrow through his head, he would also ask the arrow how it felt. This season, the whole cast seems to have an arrow through its head -- in the case of Anthony Edwards' Mark Green, almost literally. Green's fighting a brain tumor, which comes a few seasons after he had the hell beaten out of him in the bathroom; dude's bad luck, but it turns out the tumor's operable after all. Hot damn, a Christmas miracle! ER, F.U.

So far this year, Abby's crazy mother (Sally Field) has shown up; Elizabeth has been sued for malpractice; Peter's nephew was killed by gang-bangers; Luka bashed in the brains of a would-be mugger; Carter's popping pills, only to vomit them up; and Kerry's kissing female doctors. Imagine what merriment's in store come spring sweeps; a Towering Inferno homage, one hopes. At least ER has birthed the most literate, fetishistic Web site about an ongoing show: Paula Graves and Dave Ragsdale's site (www.digiserve.com/er/episodes/) offers stunningly comprehensive plot summaries and thoughtful criticism, plus detailed medical and legal commentary, for every single episode. John Wells would do well to hire the duo as consultants, before his series flatlines forever.

ABC has canceled only one new show, The Trouble With Normal, which means Geena Davis and Gabriel Byrne are still trolling for laughs at the bottom of the comedic barrel. Davis' show might well be the worst show of the new season -- but seeing as how it's impossible to actually look at it longer than 23 seconds at a time, it's hard to pass judgment. ABC has also done a fine job of wasting Homicide's André Braugher by casting him as the head doc in Gideon's Crossing, which was better the first time around -- when it was called ER . . . or was that St. Elsewhere . . . or Marcus Welby, M.D.? Braugher does little more than stand in front of his medical students, all of whom sport a look fresh off the Krispy Kreme conveyor belt, and talktalktalk like some acting student auditioning for a role in Inherit the Wind. As for ABC's other hourlong smash not named The Practice, they really ought to change the name of Once and Again to thirtysomething again, now that David Clennon has donned Miles Drentell's evil smirk once more.

As for CBS . . . uh, is CBS even still on the air before The Late Show With David Letterman? Bette not. And don't start on about how C.S.I. is groundbreaking television; the only time exec producer Jerry Bruckheimer broke ground was when he buried the movies six feet under. You know why everybody loves Raymond? No? Me neither.

That leaves Fox, UPN and the WB to duke it out for people who still feel the need to watch the networks -- all 18 of you. About the best thing on those three networks is a little something called The Gilmore Girls, which smells a lot like that old show My Sister Sam with only a slight change in relationship. Fox has a hit in Malcolm in the Middle, which might be a great show if only the writers would stop explaining every single joke by having Frankie Muniz talk to the camera in a tone of voice that suggests an impatient mother talking to her doltish child. At least the network axed Freakylinks before it spread like a virus, and one hopes The Simpsons are soon enough taken out of their (and our) misery. Now, if someone would only teach Jessica Alba how to speak English.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky