year: 1982
cast: Ed Flanders, Norman Lloyd, Denzel Washington, David Morse, Howie Mandel, David Birney, Cynthia Sykes, Terrence Knox, Christina Pickles, William Daniels, Kim Miyori
rating: *****

Putting aside the horrendous fact that the entire show could be the imagination of an austic boy (as implied in the last episode), I see ST. ELSEWHERE... at least in its primal stage... as a show about a REAL LIFE hospital stuck in purgatory and constantly badgered by a determined, pesky demon called Fate. The first season sets up how each character deals with that demon and adjusts into the purgatory setting. Ed Flanders as "Dr. Donald Westphall" gets everything loaded upon him; in his always saddened owlish eyes embody the pains of not only the patients, but the young doctors under his meek, yet always respected, leadership. What doesn't hinder "Westphall" will encroach upon his youthful version, David Morse as the heart-felt, thoroughly involving and ueber-sensitive "Dr. Jack Morrison"... trying to make things better even though that unseen yet always formidable "curse" resides throughout the hallways of "St. Eligus" i.e. "St. Elsewhere", a hospital where people "end up", seemingly without choice. Denzel Washington, as "Dr. Philip Chandler", the only actor to have, after the show's run, make it REALLY big and to win a couple Oscars, keeps his head cool with acute professionalism and, as the only character seemingly immune of the demon, is also an example to the other young doctors by always being in control. You'd think Howie Mandel, as the playful jokey "Dr. Wayne Fiscus", provides only comic relief, but his acting - and character - is on par with the others; his upbeat personality, while distracting the demon, is often made to wrestle with it head-on. Ed Begley Jr., as nerdy yet capable newbie surgeon "Dr. Victor Ehrlich", is connected with the show's protagonist, the uppity chief-surgeon "Dr. Mark Craig", played wonderfully by William Daniels, who, if it were another actor, could have easily been an over-the-top, unrealistic character... both young and old surgeon are perfect loggerheads, keeping each other in check at every turn. Terrance Knox as "Dr. Peter White" begins as a family man but then shows his darker side - this dough-eyed, spacey, robotic and often clumsy doc becomes more and more "possessed" in every episode. David Birney, who only lasted a few seasons, as the handsome, charming ladykiller "Dr. Ben Samuels", who listens to really bad covers of Bruce Springsteen and Police songs while in surgery, does a decent job as the show's sex symbol, but doesn't really fit like the others... the stranger the show gets, the more he's out of place, belonging in a more "normal" hospital. Least I forget the women: the tough-yet-not-overbearing, and downright gorgeous Cynthia Sykes as "Dr. Annie Cavanero", who never backs down to what she believes are the best decisions, even when she's wrong; Kim Miyori as Cavanero's young version - who seems like she could also become another Dr. Craig with her stubborn, often uptight perfectionism; Christina Pickles as the head nurse who becomes somewhat of an overall baseline... And rounding things out is Norman Lloyd as the show's Yoda, the seventy-two year old liver specialist ironically dying of liver cancer who gets a repreive by chemotherapy... making him wiser and a constant advisor to Westphall. (And least I forget some of the special guest stars including the then-non-famous Tom Hulce, Ray Liotta, Tim Robbins, and Michael Madsen... And G.W. Baily as the semi-regular head of the psych-ward, who, like Birney, didn't last long but did a decent enough job). All in all, this is one of the best-acted TV dramas I've ever experienced. All these doctors keeping their sanity intact within the halls of a bustling, eerie hospital where that Demon Fate not only lives, but thrives.

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