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TV REVIEW : 'ER': Call It General (Electrified) Hospital


After two hours with the revved-up premiere of NBC's new medical series "ER," you're ready for a Xanax.

There's screaming, there's shouting, there's frantic movement. There's the gunshot victim with a hole in the chest, the terrified baby-sitter with the battered infant, the doctor who's physically attacked by the son of a fatal heart attack victim after another patient accuses him of being anti-Semitic, the young woman who comes in to get felt up, the hypochondriac in for her hangnail. And so on and so on.

As the walking and wheeled-in wounded surge through the emergency room of the large Chicago hospital, only rarely does "ER" pause for a breath. So when one of its overworked, underpaid residents exclaims, "I could never give this up," you know he needs a shrink.

As marred and derivative as "ER" is, however, there's something quite seductive about this series created by Michael Crichton and John Wells. The performances--notably by Sherry Stringfield, George Clooney, Eriq LaSalle and Anthony Edwards as residents--are strong. Enough of the story lines are sufficiently compelling to hold your attention. And the pace? Well, put it this way about all the pulsating and fluid camerawork: You rarely lose interest.

And equally significant--unlike its competitor on CBS, the new medical series "Chicago Hope"--there are no superheroes or easy miracles in sight. After a comatose staff member is rushed in after overdosing on drugs, the patient's fate remains unresolved even as the final credits roll.

Unfortunately, "ER" also opens with enough compound fractures to potentially disable even the sturdiest series. One is a predictable subplot about Edwards' character weighing an offer to enter private practice. Another is a contrived emergency that puts LaSalle's unseasoned surgeon into the operating room. A third is Stringfield's character informing a patient he has less than a year to live while still unsure about his diagnosis. And finally, when a wife batterer's clash with an inept intern is played for laughs, you want to sue for malpractice.

Left untreated, "ER," too, may have less than a year to live.

* "ER" premieres at 9 tonight and then will be seen Thursdays at 10 p.m. on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39).

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