SEASON ONE 1994-5
Mandy Patinkin / Adam Arkin / Hector Elizondo / Roxanne Hart / Peter MacNicol / Thomas Gibson / Diane Venora / Stephen Elliot / Robyn Lively / Kim Greist / Bert Rosario / McNally Sagan / Jamie Rose / Carlease Burke / Producers John Heath & James C. Hart / Music Score by Jeff Rona / Cinematography by Tim Suhrstedt / Written & Created by David E. Kelley
Returning to Chicago Hope is a surprisingly rewarding experience, considering the plethora of hospital dramas that regularly open up practice on our screens. All the familiar ingredients for an American medical soap-opera are there from the outset : Hot-headed young doctor who flies too close to the sun; an ageing surgeon fearing being put out to pasture; morality arguments over charging for hospital care; divorce played out in the workplace; a continual succession of patients running as sub-plots that neatly begin and end with each episode.. it all feels comfortably familiar, and yet we very quickly notice the style and maturity of the writing, and the subtle intelligence of the cast performances. Chicago Hope was unlucky in it’s timing, appearing on our screens just one night before fellow hospital rival ‘E.R.’ lurched into immediate 1st place in the viewing figures, with it’s break-neck speed and edgy camerawork, covering a war-zone of MASH style carnage. Viewed back to back the two shows were such polar opposites of pace that they scarcely felt the same genre at all. E.R. captured an audience immersed in MTV rapid editing, and punchy news style reportage, but Chicago Hope took it’s time to draw breath, relying more on individual class performances, mood and the luxury of character development.
Creator and writer David E. Kelley certainly knows his stuff when it comes to weaving TV Hospital and Legal drama series into gold, with such iconic offerings as ‘LA.Law‘, ‘Ally McBeal‘, ‘Doogie Howser M.D.‘, and more recently ‘Boston Legal‘. The mid-nineties Chicago Hope series is set in an Illinois charity hospital, and manages to combine both medical and legal matters, by installing an in-house cut-throat lawyer played with aplomb by the excellent Peter MacNicol ( ‘Sophie’s Choice‘ and later to appear as the remarkable ‘Biscuit’, in Kelley’s Ally McBeal). So we have a difficult partnership of opposing natures, that of the caring (though affluent) professionals struggling to maintain idealism within the cold, money-orientated system, whilst an instrument of that very system (MacNicol) fights fire with fire, ultimately making the doctors reliant upon the very backhanded tactics that represent everything they despise about the System. This unholy alliance characterizes much of Kelley’s work, with the legal dramas internalizing the battle between the desire to help, and the seductions of monetary reward, of what is best for the client, and what feeds the Firm that allows the Pro-bono work to exist in the first place.
Our struggling protagonist at the heart of Chicago Hope is Mandy Patinkin as Dr. Jeffrey Geiger, the hospital’s hotshot surgeon struggling with personal and emotional problems that put him into dangerous friction with both the Hospital board and close friends alike. At turns both charming and obnoxious, taking dangerous risks that generally pay off, but concern his colleagues and threaten to end in tragedy. If this character sounds all too familiar, then you’ve probably realized that ‘House’ borrowed more than a stethoscope from it’s predecessor.
Adam Arkin, Hector Elizondo and Roxanne Hart (who you may recall from ‘Highlander‘) give good solid performances, and MacNicol shines brightly from the sidelines, but Patinkin steals the show. Up until the appearance of Chicago Hope, TV was still the testing ground for careers that would bridge into cinema, with Denzel Washington stepping out of his Doctor’s white coat in ‘St.Elsewhere’ and George Clooney jumping ship from ‘E.R.’ for a bigger slice of the pie. By contrast Mandy Patinkin marked a change in tradition, with what would soon be an influx of big screen names moving ‘to’ television. The effect is very clear by the end of the second episode (no spoilers here!), when we finish on a moment of such emotional clout, that we quite forget we’re watching a weekly TV show. Along the way the use of an occasional expletive caused the censors to raise an eyebrow, but again helped make Chicago Hope an edgier and more surprising experience.
When Chicago Hope first reached Britain’s shores in the mid 1990’s, it was viewed with a certain cultural distance, since at that time the Health Care Systems of the States and of Britain were quite different in nature. With the recent radical shifts in political ideology in regards to it’s National Health Service, England is rapidly approaching a time when hospitals will closer mirror the America model. Upon it’s release in the UK for 2012, Chicago Hope shows a prescient glimpse of a health system that all too soon will be part and parcel of British life. So then,with it’s release onto DVD not only is this series a product of it’s time, it is also a show to be re-watched with a keener sense of identification for British audiences.
Season One of CHICAGO HOPE is now available from
Revelation Films / kochmedia, in a nice 6 disc box set
-22 episodes – 1014 minutes-