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WHEN ER'S DR. SUSAN LEWIS (SHERRY Stringfield) checked out of County General on Nov. 21 to be near her sister's family in Phoenix, attending physician Kerry Weaver (Laura Innes, see page 77) couldn't help but grumble. "I want to be supportive of lifestyle choices," she sighed, "but we're getting the short end here!" My feelings exactly. Dr. Lewis is one of TV's great female role models of the '90s—amazingly, ER is jam-packed with them—and her departure is hard to bear. As Dr. Lewis prepared to board the train, I found myself crying, "Susan, stay!" right along with Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) and the show's 37 million shocked and heartbroken viewers.
But disappointment aside, it's hard to find fault with the parallel reasons behind the departures of both String-field and her character. "I have a new life," Dr. Lewis told Dr. Greene. "It's going in another direction." Already having walked out before for personal reasons from starring roles on The Guiding Light and NYPD Blue, String-field cited frustration with the long hours on ER's set and a need for privacy—not to mention the desire to spend time with her boyfriend Odell Lambroza, an investment banker in New York City. For her part, Dr. Lewis also spent the past year struggling to balance her personal and professional lives. Consistently handling her demanding job in the ER with calm efficiency, she first lovingly cared for her drug-addicted sister's baby only to have the child eventually taken back following her sister's recovery. Her sessions with a therapist that followed were among prime time's most wrenchingly profound moments since Nancy on thirty something faced ovarian cancer.
Luckily for us, however, ER's remaining women match Dr. Lewis's inspiring combination of intelligence, integrity and heart. The show's sassy nurses (Conni Marie Brazelton, Ellen Crawford and Yvette Freeman) provide a sharp, running commentary on the main action: Head nurse Carol Hathaway (Juliana Margulies) is taking pre-med classes at night, and physician's assistant Jeanie Boulet (Gloria Reuben) is courageously coping with AIDS. Lately the stable of solid female characters has grown with the addition of Innes's character and brilliant pediatric surgeon Abby Keaton (Glenne Headly), an unorthodox teacher who is having a wild fling with young resident Carter (Noah Wyle). "She doesn't act like a surgeon," Dr. Benton (Eriq La Salle) says disapprovingly of Keaton. He doesn't know the half of it.
American television has truly come a long way when the most popular program in the country features female characters this strong. We shouldn't wait until they're gone to tell them how much we care.
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