Thursday, May 31, 2012

New York Times Article on the VHS Boxed Set

From 1998, when the videotape boxed set The Very Best of St. Elsewhere was released.

Here's one from the New York Times archives, about how "St. Elsewhere Taught Us To Be Careful Watchers". In particular, this article refers to how season four viewers, watching "Cheek to Cheek", would have to remember how Mr. McAllister (Jack Bannon) ended up in prison for murdering his wife's killer, wannabe radical terrorist Andrew Rhinehardt (Tim Robbins, in one of his first professional roles), all the way back in the series' fourth episode, "Cora and Arnie". Those storylines will eventually receive posts of their own, unless I give this up.

Mr. McAllister (Jack Bannon) spots Footsteps of
Spring, not Johnny Jump-Up, on Dr. Westphall's
native plant poster.
More mention of Robert Thompson's Television's Second Golden Age, which had been published about two years before the boxed set came out. The "careful" watching referred to in the review's title was one of the things I enjoyed about St. Elsewhere when I started watching. Because of Prime's airing schedule in the 90's, I saw the seasons backwards, starting with 6, then 5, then 4, and then 1, 2 and 3. Though many people, when watching a TV show or reading a book, would hear a character refer to an event that happened before and be confused and therefore disenchanted, I've never had that problem. I'd just assume that I was the one who didn't know what was going on, make a reasonable assumption as to what they meant, and go on enjoying the story.

What made St. Elsewhere stand out, even compared to Hill Street Blues, was this awareness of its own history. I have an apparently freakish (I've been told) memory for details, so this kind of stuff really appeals to me. Upon this latest viewing, I've noticed that they don't really start with the references to past episodes until season 4.

Four seasons later, and Drs. Chandler and Kiley are
still debating: Johnny Jump-Up or Footsteps of Spring?
The example Thompson cites in his book is how on the episode following "Cheek to Cheek", Phil is buying flowers for Roxanne, and tells Kiley, "Roxanne loves Johnny Jump-Ups," to which Kiley replies, "too bad, those are Footsteps of Spring". In Cora and Arnie, after Katherine McAllister dies, Mr. McAllister is in Dr. Westphall's office, admiring the native plant poster Lizzie gave him because his office was too stark, and McAllister points at a flower and guesses, "Viola Tri-Color?" Westphall replies, "Johnny Jump-Up," and McAllister looks closer and reads that no, it's Footsteps of Spring. If you remember that scene, you're reminded of the drastic difference between the man then and now.

I received the Very Best of St. Elsewhere boxed set as a Christmas present in 2003, as it was the only legitimate video of St. Elsewhere on the market at the time. The selection of episodes was "Bypass" and "Cora and Arnie" from season one, "Drama Center" from season two, "My Aim Is True" from season three, "Time Heals (Parts 1 & 2)" from season four, "After Life" from season five, and "The Last One" from season six. This selection gives you two key episodes from the Rhinehart/McAllister story, plus the beginning, end, and aftermath of Peter White, ski-masked rapist.

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