Shonda Rhimes Critique, Part 1

Grey’s Anatomy

Grey’s Anatomy has been a bete noire of mine for more than ten years, and it would appear to be time to admit that only time will be the enemy of this series. I have been arguing against this series many failings — — the fact that its lead character, Meredith Grey has always been one of the thinnest foundations to do a series on, the fact that the medicine they practice in this hospital is far inferior to the kind that was practiced on real hospital shows, the fact that the relationships on this show have no more solidity than those in a tween serial. But the fact remains having lost patience with the series five years ago, I have no longer felt the need to critique it, being particularly angry that the only character I really liked on the series, the only one who seemed like he’d be a good doctor, George O’Malley (T.R. Knight) was killed off so cold-bloodedly by Rhimes at the end of that season.

So I deal with what can only be considered a major flaw in the series — — the high mortality rate at Seattle Grace/Mercy West/whatever they’re calling it now. One could make the argument that other hospital dramas have been just as brutal to their doctors — — I’ve seen how frequent St. Elsewhere did it, and ER in its later seasons, kept finding ways to put its MDs in harms way. But the brutality at Seattle Grace has always seemed so arbitrary. The first time it seemed obvious this was happening was at the finale of Season 6, when a man whose wife had died in an earlier episode came back to the hospital and started shooting people. He had three specific targets, but he seemed to end up shooting everybody in the hospital before he got to the point, and even though no major characters were killed, it set the standard for enormous traumas in the series future. Paradoxically, journals like Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide heralded these decision, saying they brought life to a moribund series. They fail to consider that this had been going on since Season 2 and that all it seemed to do was make the characters more standoffish then before.

It also gave Rhimes a license to kill, and she’s been wielding her pen in such a fashion ever since. An actor’s contract is coming to a close? Time for a car crash/electrical storm/terrorist attack. One would think Seattle was a bigger target for danger than the LA Jack Bauer worked out of the first six days of 24. And never was this made more bluntly than the way Rhimes dealt with one of the key relationships in the series?

In Season 5, Lexie Grey, Meredith’s half-sister began an affair with Mark Sloan, the rogue of Seattle. From its familiar trappings, it eventually began to take more dimension, but other obstacles (pregnancies, shootings, other relationships) kept getting in the way. By the end of Season 8, it finally seemed that every possible obstacle that had been put in their way had been cleared off. Rhimes then had several major characters, including Lexie and Sloan in a plane crash that eventually killed both of them off. It was one of the most horrid acts that Rhimes has committed (and trust me, she committed a lot) because it made it feel that those who followed the relationship for four seasons had completely and utterly wasted their time. Adding insult to injury, when asked to address this in EW, she said: “Now Sloan and Lexie can be together forever.” Take that in for a minute.. To her the only successful relationship is one where both participants are dead.

I wouldn’t take her seriously, except she seems to be living by that mantra very brutally throughout all her series, and it’s particularly tasteless when one considers the obstacles. For the central characters of Meredith and Derek Shepherd, it took five full seasons for the two just to get engaged. Two more for them to get married. And then, they had children. But because Shonda believes that a relationship has to keep moving or its dies, or because she can’t just let her characters be happy, she keeps throwing obstacles in their way, no matter how illogical. This is where I realize the fundamental problem in Rhimes world. She believes in sex. Relationships not so much.

And this has colored every decision she has made in the hospital. The patriarchal figure Dr. Richard Weber had more trouble with his marriage to Adele. He’d had an affair with Meredith’s mother, Ellis before the series began, and that relationship eventually seeped into his marriage, causing them to separate for a time. They eventually got back together, but Adele was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and her degeneration was very rapid. By the middle of Season 8, she was in a home, and died of a heart attack in Season 9. All of this is standard soap opera stuff, but I can’t help but think that Rhimes tore apart this relationship because she wanted to have Weber more involved with the same dirty sex that everybody on the show engages in. It was a particularly bloodthirsty thing to do, especially since she decided to have Richard and Ellis Grey’s illegitimate daughter appear this season in the series.

Grey’s Anatomy has now begun to fill a niche in television. It’s not about medicine or two superpowered female doctors, its a soap opera that is set in a hospital, but to even hint at such a thing or that it’s not a great show is offensive somehow. Many very good actors have been on Grey’s Anatomy that an equal number of good ones — — Isaiah Washington, Kim Raver, Katherine Heigl — — have left the series in controversy. (One can’t fully blame this on Rhimes, but it’s been happening on every series she’s been connected with.) The fact is, it’s done more to set the hospital-based drama back than almost any series (which is particularly ironic, since when it became a hit it was supposed to inspire more of them.) But no mater what happens here, it’s definitely not the most implausible series she’s created. That honor belongs, without question, to Scandal.

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After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.

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