‘St. Elsewhere’: Why You need to Revisit TV’s Groundbreaking medical Drama

All six periods of this Eighties stalwart are now streaming top top Hulu — a binge-worthy watch the reveals a display far ahead of that is time


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The sprawling cast of 'St. Elsewhere' included, clockwise from optimal left, Ed Begley Jr., David Morse, Howie Mandel, note Harmon, Sagan Lewis, Stephen Furst and also Denzel Washington.

You are watching: Cast of st elsewhere where are they now

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There’s a famed episode of southern Park dubbed “Simpsons already Did It,” where Butters proposes various schemes the he then has to abandon upon being reminded that someone on The Simpsons had previously tried it. It to be a have fun of the innovation and influence of Bart, Homer and also friends, and also of the long shadow they cast over so many shows that complied with them. It’s damn difficult for any animated comedy — including The Simpsons itself, which, like South Park, is still making new episodes 16 years after “Simpsons currently Did It” very first aired — to shot something the doesn’t in some method echo those standard early periods in Springfield.

Eighties hospital drama St. Elsewhere didn’t have nearly as long a run, proper making it through six modestly-rated seasons. However those 137 illustration — every one of which room now easily accessible on Hulu (which previously only had actually the first season) — featured so much experimentation, so many things the American TV had never do the efforts before, that most of the good dramas of the last 30 years (as fine as some of the comedies) can easily carry out a similar episode dubbed “St. Elsewhere already Did It.”


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A morally facility drama v a sprawling cast and intricate continuous narrative? St. Elsewhere currently did it.

Technically, Hill Street Blues (which Hulu has had actually for a while now) did the even prior to St. Elsewhere. The latter drama, created by Joshua Brand and also John Falsey, transplanted the Hill Street formula to a hospital setting, because that the very same network and also studio together Hill Streetno less. However it go bigger — by the end of its an initial season the cast featured 16 regulars, a vast number because that the time and even for many non-Game of Thrones collection today — and also often deeper. Story arcs played out over years(*), even if it is sensationalist product like a serial rapist (who turned the end to be among the doctors) terrorizing the employee or something more understated prefer the lengthy fight versus cancer through the avuncular Dr. Auschlander (Norman Lloyd, that is still acting at 103). At any given time, it had actually at the very least a half-dozen regulars the authors didn’t know what to do with. (Most highlight in hindsight: Denzel Washington as confident resident Philip Chandler; his increase from half-forgotten TV sustaining player come movie megastar could force Bradley Cooper and Melissa McCarthy’s career biographers come write, “Denzel currently did it!”) but the dimension of the ensemble permitted the show to it is in unmistakably varied — in gender, race, age and also even layout of demonstrate (pairing veteran character actors like Lloyd and also William Daniels through comedians choose Howie Mandel and also Ed Begley Jr.) — in a way that seemed effortless, especially in irradiate of how plenty of shows this particular day still struggle with inclusive casting.

(*) The series figured the end a clever workaround come the fact that most of the characters were inhabitants in a three-year routine at St. Eligius: each season covered only six months. This resulted in oddities prefer Christmas illustration airing in May, however it also avoided the contortions necessary to save everyone working at the hospital over a longer term. Part high college shows might do fine to take into consideration this prior to the unavoidable moment wherein all the children decide to attend college together.

Hot-button worries tackled with an excellent thought and sensitivity? St. Elsewhere already did it.

The collection was ~ above the state-of-the-art of what medication was managing at the time: heart transplants(*) and artificial hearts, sex transitions, AIDS (Mark Harmon’s womanizing plastic surgeon Bobby Caldwell became TV’s first significant character come contract, and then dice of, the illness) and also in vitro fertilization, amongst many others. And also the hospital additionally proved a stage on i beg your pardon to existing conflicts around religion, race, sexuality, family, suicide, war and also much more. That was never ever shy about discussing current events, also at the risk of alienating viewers who can disagree with the view one personality or an additional took.


(*) The love transplant arc resulted in the series’ most powerful moment and also one that the an excellent scenes in the medium’s history. The body organ winds up coming from the young wife of luckless resides Jack Morrison (David Morse), the an initial of a lengthy string of tragedies and humiliations saw upon that by the writers. Jack is easy to understand devastated, however he copes in part by sneaking right into the recipient’s room if she sleeps therefore he can listen come his wife’s heart continue to beat. It was such a beautiful id that numerous other hospital reflects (including a few from St. Elsewhere veterans) have copied it in the years since.

Wild trial and error with format, tone and also genre? St. Elsewhere already did it.

The show’s 3rd season ended with the hospital’s three an elderly doctors stopping in because that a drink in ~ the bar from Cheers, through Carla, Norm and Cliff all wandering over come banter through them (sans laugh track). “Time Heals,” the series’ two-part masterpiece native Season Four, moves back and 4th over 50 year of the hospital’s history, through each period shot in the layout of movies of that decade, filling in vital details about the resides of the doctors and St. Eligius itself. Season Five’s “After Life” bring away Mandel’s Dr. Fiscus v heaven (a clear garden party), hell (a desolate lake without any type of fish to catch) and also purgatory (a depressing vacation filled with human being who didn’t fulfill their dreams, including, notably, NFL referees) before giving the a chance to speak straight with God. Various other episodes dabbled in dream imagery, theatrical principles (one hour is structured choose Our Town, with Ed Flanders’ Dr. Westphall straight addressing the audience), superhero fantasies and various added conceits the no one supposed to uncover on a hospital drama.

Meta humor and self-awareness? St. Elsewhere already did it.

Long prior to Abed top top Community became convinced he to be a TV character, St. In other places winked early and also often in ~ its very own fictional nature and also at the history of TV in general. One old patient, the amnesiac john Doe #6 (Oliver Clark) came to be convinced the was mar Richards from The mar Tyler Moore Show, attended treatment sessions through Elliot Carlin from The Bob Newhart display and, when challenged by Betty White in a non-MTM role, still handle her together Sue Ann Nivens. As orderly Warren Coolidge, Byron Stewart to be reprising a duty he’d played for St. Elsewhere showrunner Bruce Paltrow top top The White Shadow; his former co-star Tim valve Patten (Shadow security Salami) appeared in a couple of Season three episodes playing a different role, and also when the two crossed paths by a hospital elevator, Coolidge was understandably confused. Dialogue was peppered with references both to other series and this one. (While treating a trauma throughout one premiere, Fiscus jokes, “First day of fall; what a means to start a brand-new season, huh?”)


Divisive finale that provides viewers retroactively concern their time invested watching the whole series? St. Elsewhere really already go it.

Its concluding step revealed that the entire collection had existed in the creative thinking of Dr. Westphall’s autistic boy Tommy(*) as he stared at a snow world of the hospital’s exterior every day. To underline the point — and to do the audience feeling even more judged around their very own commitment come this imaginary hospital and its imagine doctors, Westphall areas the world on peak of the TV collection in the final shot. (Years later, St. Elsewhere writer Tom Fontana, who came up v the snow world idea, would certainly tell me the this century’s countless controversial drama finales: “I was like, ‘Oh, say thanks to God there’s other human being in the room v me now! It’s therefore lonely in there gift the man who had somehow infuriated half of our audience."”)

(*) The late comics writer Dwayne McDuffie once mentioned that because St. In other places crossed over with so numerous other shows, all of those reflects — no to point out the people they overcome over through (one the the St. Eligius physicians was later a doubt on Homicide, which web links the series to every one where Richard Belzer has actually played man Munch) — also must exist just in Tommy’s imagination. This has actually led to assorted attempts to magazine the totality of the Tommy Westphall Universe, which currently totals in the thousands of shows.

All the crazy energy and inspiration made St. Elsewhere an ext uneven than countless of its peers and creative descendants. The very first season is largely skippable (save for the Emmy-winning “Cora and also Arnie,” about an aging homeless couple), together it focuses too much on characters who obtained dropped after the year in addition to Brand and also Falsey. The topical stories can play a little didactic now, as complicated new ideas had to be spelled out in detail so audiences might understand every side that the debate. The manufacturing values watch spotty even for the era. (Hill Street has actually its own facets that have actually aged badly, but it looks and feels more contemporary all these years later.) whereby a most the Eighties and also Nineties classics in Hulu’s library like Hill Street or ER are still suitable to marathoning directly through their best years, St. Somewhere else probably works better as a present where friend bounce approximately the seasons(*), making sure to fight the highlights choose “Time Heals” and also the finale.


(*) but be warned the Hulu contends least a few episodes the end of order. At the moment, “After Life” and also the illustration that adheres to it, “Once upon a Mattress,” room labeled as one another.

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That concluding hour (titled, simply, “The critical One”) was the present at its most self-aware even prior to Tommy shook the snow globe. There room recreations the the iconic end to The Fugitive and The mar Tyler Moore Show, plus referrals to M*A*S*H, The Andy Griffith Show and more. Fiscus starts the episode dealing with a patient with eye strain named basic Sarnoff (after NBC’s founder), who he advises to cut down on his TV viewing. (He then complains come a colleague that he doesn’t want his last St. Eligius patience to it is in “someone who spent their entire existence in front of the tube.”)

It’s not hard to imagine Fontana and also the other writers emotion uneasy around St. Elsewhere‘s condition as a television show, also an all-time standard one. St. Elsewhere was one of the shows that aided unlock TV’s complete narrative potential and started to adjust its reputation together a haven only for big-tent, pre-chewed, lowest-common-denominator storytelling. However the tool still had that rep at the time, and also there’s a degree of televisual self-loathing that you have the right to still find decades later in shows favor The Sopranos or 30 rock or The great Wife. Like every little thing else, as soon as those reflects poke funny at themselves because that being shows, it’s straightforward to say the St. Somewhere else already… well, friend know.