Consider one of St. Elsewhere’s most famous plotlines: A man in a ski mask has either raped or attempted to rape several women in the hospital. He’s eventually revealed to be one of the show’s doctors—one of the series’ regulars, no less. (Hard to imagine many shows doing this nowadays.) He’s acquitted at his trial, but one of the hospital’s nurses decides to avenge one of her friends and kills the doctor. She’s charged with the murder, and the others in the hospital close ranks against her when she comes in for treatment she can’t receive at the prison’s infirmary. It’s a little infuriating. The show insisted that its cult find its characters basically likable and empathetic, then turned on one of its own, essentially saying, “Sure, he was a rapist, but you’re the real awful person.” But it’s also fascinating and thought-provoking, doubling as a time capsule of ’80s gender politics (and one where the writers thoroughly knew every single button they were pushing). It’s also ridiculous and melodramatic. The rapist wears a ski mask? His true identity is hidden? If a show other than a goofy primetime soap like Revenge were to try this today, it would be derided, not considered one of the foremost dramas of its time.
Todd talks about the successes and failures of St. Elsewhere in his new 100 episodes column.