Quentin Tarantino Directs a 1995 Episode of ER: Brings Cinematic Virtuosity to TV

Just as no list of the most 1990s-defin­ing film­mak­ers could do with­out Quentin Taran­ti­no, no list of the most 1990s-defin­ing tele­vi­sion shows could do with­out ER. The long-run­ning, award-laden med­ical dra­ma made more than a few dar­ing moves over its fif­teen years, not least its choic­es of guest direc­tors. Ear­ly in its very first sea­son (which pre­miered a month before the release of Pulp Fic­tion), ER snagged Taran­ti­no to direct the episode “Moth­er­hood,” which aired on May 11, 1995 — three days before Moth­er’s Day. “The rat­ings for ER, which are usu­al­ly through the roof, should be through the moon tonight,” wrote the Bal­ti­more Sun’s David Zurawik, “And there is enough Taran­ti­no to war­rant a bit of a buzz. One weird scene involv­ing a fight between female gang mem­bers as they are being wheeled into the emer­gency room might even be con­sid­ered inspired when judged against the usu­al stan­dards of doc­tor dra­ma. But be warned: It’s ultra-bloody.”

That quote comes from a roundup of con­tem­po­rary write-ups of the episode at Chrono­log­i­cal Snob­bery, which gets into impres­sive detail on the sto­ry behind, the plot of, the hype sur­round­ing, and the Taran­tin­ian imagery in “Moth­er­hood,” and it also offers a brief inter­view with for­mer child actor Abra­ham Ver­duz­co, who “played Palmer, one of the eight Ranger Scouts with diar­rhea.” Taran­ti­no fans of the type who would fre­quent the Quentin Taran­ti­no Archive will have rec­og­nized Ver­duz­co from his ear­li­er appear­ance in Robert Rodriguez’s Taran­ti­no-fea­tur­ing Des­per­a­do. “The episode boasts the usu­al inter­twined sto­ries of bleed­ing gang­sters, rela­tion­ship trou­ble, fam­i­ly dra­ma, preg­nan­cies, drug abuse and for­bid­den love,” says the QTA. “What makes this episode so inter­est­ing to Taran­ti­no fans are all the QT trade­marks that one can spot through the episode.” Some of these, aside from a pen­chant for vin­tage shades (“Quentin picked out the sun­glass­es and was adamant we wear them,” said actress Julian­na Mar­guiles), include:

  • Dr. Lewis wears a Yosemite Sam t‑shirt
  • Pulp Fic­tion’s Angela Jones appears as Michelle
  • A Bea­t­les song (“Black­bird”) accom­pa­nies a birth
  • The Ranger Scouts act like the Three Stooges, and Dr. Carter calls the con­stel­la­tion of the stars by the names Moe, Lar­ry, and Curly
  • A girl cuts anoth­er girl’s ear off

And a more than bit of cin­e­mat­ic vir­tu­os­i­ty comes right up front in the form of the episode’s much-dis­cussed (as recent­ly as last week, on Metafil­ter) sin­gle-take open­ing. You can see a cou­ple seg­ments of the episode right here, and for the whole thing — not to men­tion video qual­i­ty supe­ri­or to that which you get above, and for which we apol­o­gize — you need only to find disc four of the ER sea­son one DVD col­lec­tion. It makes me wish 1990s tele­vi­sion had done as much to bring auteurs into the fold at 21st-cen­tu­ry tele­vi­sion has; what I would­n’t give for a Hal Hart­ley-direct­ed episode of Sein­feld, say, or a Kevin Smith X‑Files.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Quentin Taran­ti­no Lists the 12 Great­est Films of All Time: From Taxi Dri­ver to The Bad News Bears

Quentin Taran­ti­no Tells You About The Actors & Direc­tors Who Pro­vid­ed the Inspi­ra­tion for “Reser­voir Dogs”

My Best Friend’s Birth­day, Quentin Tarantino’s 1987 Debut Film

Quentin Taran­ti­no Explains The Art of the Music in His Films

The Pow­er of Food in Quentin Tarantino’s Films

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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