Writing for me has been a commercialised activity of sorts lately. I have been writing for a living. For money. Not that I am any good, but I do feel myself stagnating. I used to relish blogging but I don’t get much joy writing for myself these days. That prompted me to seek a new distraction. TV. But not just any new Korean dramas or new films that run on TV streaming platforms, such as Netflix or Viu or on Apple TV+. I mean older ones. Those that are still running. And by those, I mean Grey’s Anatomy.
As I am writing this piece, I am only five episodes into its first season. As an avid TikTok user, I am familiar with the content from Grey’s; funny thirty-second to minute-long snippets of the show ended up on my feed and the algorithm stayed. I found myself getting intrigued. Slowly.
2021 marks the series’ 17th year in the making. Premiered in 2005, Grey’s follow the lives of a band of medical interns trying to get their hands on “the game” — that is surgery — and as they progress up the ranks, we see them thrive, fall down, and then thrive again at Seattle Grace Hospital. Its plot is just like any other medical drama; there’s a casualty, another casualty, a surgery, more surgeries, and sex. A part of each drama is narrated by the series’ protagonist Dr Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) in a soft Carrie Bradshaw-esque voice. In its initial pilot, we see Dr Meredith Grey, who was then an intern, in a tryst with a stranger who turns out to be the hospital’s attending brain surgeon.
The truth is, I fell in love with the show in the beginning. Not because I was bored. Nor was it because it brought some light-hearted entertainment at night. But because Grey’s creator Shonda Rhimes is a force to be reckoned with. I have ditched plenty of shows, like My Vampire Diaries or The Walking Dead, many seasons in. The medical genre was never a draw in itself (I do like the Japanese medical drama Doctor X) either. I don’t know what drew me in initially to binge on the TikTok videos even with no context. If anything, it’s got to be in the writing. Rhimes’ creative and ambitious vision of the show has me (and many others) hooked. On ends. Likely forever.
There’s something extremely captivating about the show’s writing. Each episode features a monologue from Dr Meredith Grey. Sometimes the monologue is illuminating, riveting even. But other times it turns out to be an admonishment of sorts. In one episode, it’s about how adulting sucks because it’s full of responsibilities and that these responsibilities hit you when you start wearing training bras. In another, it’s about drawing boundaries and yet, sometimes you have to be willing to cross them. Why? Because boundaries never keep people out; they fence you in.
Beyond the monologues, the characters are impeccable too. There’s the ferociously ambitious intern Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) whose sarcastic and can’t-be-bothered-with-anything-unless-it’s-surgery demeanour is a total vibe; former lingerie model Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) whose first assignment was to conduct dozens of rectal exams; George O’Malley (T.T. Knight), a goofy dude who lives with his mom but becomes Meredith’s and Izzie’s “honorary sister” and roommate; and the ever-arrogant bully Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) who I have come to hate.
Grey’s also about relationship building. Which is something you don’t get from many medical dramas. At Grey’s, Rhimes deliberately slows down its pace. So you get don’t get a lot of that adrenaline-pumping, high-speed action. Instead, you get ample opportunities to know the characters. You get to see dilemma, fear, anger, happiness, curiosity (think having seeing seven nails stuck in the skull and having all sorts of objects impaled into the human body) and eventually witness a widow’s grief and seizure-inducing rage.
Tokenism is non-existent here too. In the first season, the three best surgeons who oversee the interns are African-American. Cristina Yang is a Korean-American. Some of the nurses and staff are Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, and more. There are also L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ characters — inserts Niko x Levi ship — too! Controversial topics or hot-buttoned societal issues pertaining to sexual orientation, race, and physical and mental disabilities all unfurled matter-of-factly with little fanfare, which is quite unlike some shows who plonk in special episodes to touch on these themes. In 2005, that’s impressive.
And finally, Grey’s is all about encouraging conversations. It’s about addressing the elephant in the room. About getting heard. About giving a damn about these larger conversations. Whether it’s the present coronavirus pandemic, or uneven gender wage gaps, or even the early onset of the AIDS crisis, Grey’s has been fresh, well-paced, and explored unchartered territories with openness and humaneness. It’s feminist, unapologetic, and real. Very real.
Thus far, I am only a few episodes into its 17 seasons. But I’m excited to see the characters grow and yet, equally terrified to witness their deaths (It’s a medical drama and so deaths are common). To be emotionally invested in a show that sees characters age in real-time is a weird, warm, snuggly feeling. But for now, I have reignited my long-lost love for TV. And I have Grey’s Anatomy’s vivid storytelling to thank for.
This story was written on June 5, 2021, but it never got published … until now.
Feature Image Credit: ABC