We knew we should’ve been more worried for Angela Bassett when we first saw that trailer for Meet the Browns. Now, it appears she’s joined the cast of ER for its “15th and final” season. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “She will play a tough attending with a troubled past who returns to Chicago after a few years in Indonesia doing tsunami relief.”
“Troubled past,” huh? Consider our red flag raised.
Some may find this news exciting, reasoning, “Hey, pending any further production-related strikes, TV gigs mean steady checks!” Indeed they do. But shouldn’t there be more in Hollywood for Angela “What’s Love Got to Do With It” Bassett than a steady check? Aside from a recurring role on Alias, Bassett’s never been a TV person. She never had to be. In fact, this ER gig marks her first role as a television series regular. The thing is, as with Alias, she’s joining the cast of a former hit (or in Alias’ case, cult) show at a time when it couldn’t be less relevant or anticipated.
Fam, they couldn’t even book George Clooney for a one-episode guest spot—and that show made him. There wouldn’t have been a Syriana or Michael Clayton or Goodnight and Good Luck for ol’ Salt ‘n’ Pepper Smarm ‘n’ Charm over there without ER. And regardless, Clooney’s not coming back. He knows a pointless career move when he sees one.
Would that Bassett were in a position to be more selective than sharing screen time with Madea and playing a “tough attending” on a show that no longer has a single one of its original cast members… and that now employs Full House’s John Stamos.
We can’t imagine what miseries they have in store for her character. Tragedy befalls the best of them on ER. Remember when Carrie Weaver came out as a lesbian, the writers gave her a lover, the two had a baby, then they killed off the lover and left Weaver embroiled in a custody battle for the kid? Remember when Dr. Greene was killed off with an inoperable brain tumor? And who could forget Dr. Romano’s arm being severed by the propellers of a Medivac—and then he was killed by another helicopter a season or two later?
This cannot bode well for Bassett’s as-yet-to-be-finalized story arc. If the writers are that hard on their white characters, you know they’ve been murder on their Black ones, right?
Let’s hit the highlights, shall we?
When Gloria Reuben starred as the quiet, but strong-willed Jeanie Boulet, they made her husband an adulterer who contracted HIV and totally infected her. This doomed her burgeoning, albeit extramarital, relationship with…
Dr. Peter Benton (Eriq LaSalle), who later went on to have a baby by some chick he used to date named Carla (Lisa Nicole Carson). The baby’s born deaf and just when Peter’s finally making his peace with that, a remarried Carla drops the bomb that the baby, Reese, might not be his son. Great. Paternity drama. Carla and her new husband want full custody of Reese to take him to Germany. Then, Carla dies! And her husband still wants full custody. And while they’re duking it out in court? It turns out Benton is NOT the daddy, after all! Like, thanks, writers. He still gets the baby. And actress Michael Michele. But at that point, who really cares? Both LaSalle and Michele leave the show around then.
Then you’ve got the infamous Omar Epps arc. He plays Dennis Gant, an intern taken under Dr. Carter’s (Noah Wyle) wing… only he keeps messin’ up and Benton is totally on his case and then he can’t handle the pressure and throws himself on the tracks of an El train. During a Chicago winter. That’s cold. The killingest part (pun intended) is when he comes into the ER—face so badly disfigured that he’s unrecognizable. When Dr. Carter pages Gant to assist with the surgery, the pager on the disfigured patient goes off, and a slow, horrified dawning alights the faces of the staff.
Here we have Dr. Greg Pratt, as played by Mekhi Phifer. Everyone hates him when he first gets to County General—and rightfully so. He’s a bit of a jerk. Shades of Benton 2.0 and all that. Phifer played the character as something of a reformed thug—and you start to realize why, once the writers start giving him “personal life” story lines. He’s got a mentally challenged brother living with him—and the brother “falls in with a criminal element” who stab him and force him to participate in a robbery. Pratt himself is later involved in a drive-by, while transporting a patient and then-girlfriend Dr. Chen. As a result of the drive by, his car veers off a bridge and into the river, killing the patient. He and Chen survive. But he goes on to have a bunch of other “hood mishaps,” including subbing his own blood for a friend’s to avoid the friend getting a DUI. As punishment, his boss makes him move to Africa (Sudan, to be exact) to join well-meaning white Dr. Carter who’s already there with Doctors Without Borders.
And let us hang our heads for a moment in memory of dear, sweet Dr. Gallant (Sharif Atkins). Dr. Gallant was a reeeeally low key character, starting out. He arrived around the same time Pratt did, so there wasn’t much for him to do. He was the humble, play-by-the-rules, gumpish counterbalance to Pratt’s “bad boy.” They seldom had scenes together and Gallant rarely had lines. The most memorable thing about him was his clean-shaven babyface and his disturbingly compact afro.
Then some time between his lackluster intro and his untimely demise (because of course he had to have an untimely demise…), he bulked up, cut his hair, grew a goatee, made a play for fellow minority intern Neela (Parminder Nagra), and then… revealed he was being called to duty in Iraq? What the hell? Just like that. Just when Neela was about to give him some play, he gets called to war. Wouldn’t you know it? Not to worry, though. Off-screen, he and Neela secretly begin a relationship and when he comes back to Chicago on leave, he asks her to marry him. Aw! Brown love; ain’t it grand? They have the most depressing wedding and love scene ever. Then he goes back to Iraq. A year later, an episode opens with dusty brown sand as far as the eye can see. So you know we’re in Iraq. And Kanye West’s “Golddigger” is playing over a scene where an army Jeep is transporting Gallant and a few other soldiers somewhere. He’s reading a letter from Neela and when one of them asks who it’s from, he says his wife and goes on to begin talking about her, like, “She’s so beaut—” but ooops! Sand bomb, son! Aaaaand Gallant’s toast. Seriously. That’s how they played it.
This should be enough evidence that Blackness doesn’t bode well for folks at Country General. But before we close that argument, please indulge us for just a few more minutes while we point to a few of the various Black guest stars on ER over the years.
When Coby Bell appeared, he played a basketball player (like, of course he did) with testicular cancer who bolted from the ER lobby before they could admit him for treatment. He was never heard from again.
When Djimon Hounsou appeared with Akosua Busia as his wife, Dr. Greene tried to be nice to them (they were African refugees of some kind, like, of course they were…) and when Greene tried to touch Hounsou’s shoulder to treat him, Hounsou snapped and stabbed Greene a bunch of times behind a curtain. He was arrested and presumably sent back to whatever war-torn faction he came from. His wife ends the show sobbing, begging the police not to take her husband away—explaining that he’d been tortured and can’t be touched without warning.
When Thandie Newton was on there, she and Dr. Carter hooked up (because, apparently, in TV land, Noah Wyle is this unmitigated mack who can pull women of all shapes, colors and sizes). He met her in Africa (like, of course he did) and brought her back to the states—after knocking her up, of course. Then, they totally lose the baby. She carries it almost up to term but it dies in the womb, but she still has to deliver it, knowing it’s already dead.
Oscar-winning Forest Whitaker appeared last season. He was admitted with a cough, then promptly had a stroke. Then, he started breaking into Drs. Luka and Abby’s house, totally psychotic-stalking them.
Danny Glover played Mekhi’s deadbeat dad.
In season 11, black gang members kidnap Abby (Maura Tierney) to force her to nurse one of their members back to health. Also that season: a black mother forces her three kids to jump out of a window in a fit of paranoid psychosis.
We could go on. Suffice it to say, the more we think about it, the more grim Bassett’s prospects seem to get.
Not that we’re gonna watch or anything. And you probably won’t, either. But thanks for the check for a struggling sister who probably shouldn’t be struggling, considering her previous body of work. And good luck on surviving to the series finale, Ms. Bassett!
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