The Decline Of GREY’S ANATOMY: The Decentralization Of Meredith

For my first Wildcard Wednesday blog, I wanted to share some posts I made during this past year regarding the ongoing decline of Grey’s Anatomy.  Yes, I’m a fan. Yes, I’m a little ashamed.

 

The first post was written last September on the eve of the Season Nine premiere in regards to this blurb:

“Earlier this month, TVLine scooped that Grey’s was planning a special episode focused solely on BFFs Meredith and Cristina, but the premise of the episode was a secret — until now. Says Ellen Pompeo, the change-of-pace hour will have a parallel structure in that it will split its time between Meredith at Seattle Grace and Cristina at her new job at the Mayo Clinic. “Usually, we do one episode a year where it’s all Meredith,” she explains. “And this season, they decided to do Meredith and Cristina to break it up a little bit and just focus on two people. They’re individual storylines, but in our own storylines, it’s sort of ALL us.” In Pompeo’s half of the episode, “[Mer] has a super-critical patient. The underlying subtext of my medical case, as usual, is dealing with issues of like my sister’s death. Emotionally, things that I haven’t dealt with, I sort of play out through taking care of this patient.”

Here’s what I wrote at the time:

While reading that spoiler, my heart sank. It reminded me of exactly the problem I personally have had with this series over the past few seasons: the decentralizing of Meredith as the primary focal point of the series. The comment that Ms. Pompeo makes in that quote above is absurd. Five years ago, it was the exact opposite. I first noticed a change occurring in Pre-Strike Season Four. I noticed that things were no longer told exclusively from Meredith’s point-of-view and that the screen time of the ensemble became more balanced. However, it was easy to see that not only was Meredith integral, but she still was the center of the ensemble. For example, in the end of 4×11, when everyone is watching Bailey and little Tuck, the final shot of the montage is on Meredith (and Derek). It was still her show, only the ensemble had risen to greater prominence. However, I felt like the structure of Post-Strike Season Four returned things to a more Meredith-centered form of story telling. Consequently, I thought the Post-Strike Season Four episodes were the best episodes–all six of them–that we’d had since before the Drowning Arc of Season Three. At the end of the Fourth Season, I was pleased. There were some growing pains along the way, but the Strike forced the writers to put on their game faces and go to work.

Season Five saw things return to the way they were in Pre-Strike Season Four, only taken to the next level. Meredith began to have even less screen time. Not tragically, insignificant, but certainly not of the caliber of the first three seasons. She still had story arcs, mind you, but often, they would not be the most prominent in an episode. In fact, I would argue that she often got shafted in favor of other storylines. I use the relationship of Mark and Lexie as an example. Between 5×08 and 5×20, Meredith finally accepted Lexie as her sister. But we never saw that. Instead we were treated to Mark and Lexie’s secret relationship. I have resented the character of Lexie ever since. Her tie to the show was Meredith, and since it wasn’t properly developed, I never thought her relationship with Mark was well done or worthy of much praise. Now, because Shonda had capitulated to the fans and gotten Meredith and Derek together, she had to work extra hard to keep them interesting. This was already evident. Fortunately, it was early enough for her to succeed. And Meredith got some pretty exciting moments throughout the season–including a marriage proposal and a post-it wedding. And though her screen time wasn’t as much as Katherine Heigl’s as Izzie, I still felt like Meredith was in the middle of everything.

All that changed at the start of the Sixth Season. I recognize that the actress was pregnant. I know that adjustments have to be made. But, damn, it was so disheartening to see how little Meredith was utilized, or even involved, in the stories that occurred in the beginning of Season Six. Excuses can be made, but she is the star of the show. Work some magic, and give her actual stories. Meredith returned to work after she donated her liver to her father… a potentially great storyline reduced to a Lexie-focused mess… in 6×09. Her screentime remained drastically low, and she really had no clearly defined arcs for the rest of the season. Now, in the final few episodes, I felt like they’d elevated Meredith’s usage a tad. But they had a purpose… they knew that the Season Finale would be focused on her. You know why it was so successful? Because Meredith was back in the forefront. Meredith saw her husband get shot and lost a baby in less than two hours. A deus ex machina to relieve themselves of a below average season, the writers showed Meredith to what she was before the actress went on maternity leave.

My feelings for the last two seasons are less definite. Both seasons, at the start, have promised to focus more on Meredith and her core group of originals. I would argue that the arcs of the first part of Season Seven did just that. However, by this point, Meredith is not the center of the show, nor the most important. In fact, I think it would be hard for a new viewer to point out who the star is. And if they could, they’d have a difficult time explaining why. The last half of the season gave Meredith very little to play with. She had one episode that was all about her–a novelty by this point, commonplace in Season One–and finally got a storyline to carry her through the last four episodes. But, to me, the cynically optimistic GREY’S ANATOMY fan, I was never more heartbroken than to learn that Meredith did not have a solo song in the musical, 7×18. I get that the episode is centered around Callie… and she’s going to get most of the time… deservedly so. But not even a damn song? If Ellen expressed a desire to not sing, Shonda could have forced her. I can’t imagine them doing a musical five years ago and not having Meredith sing. It was ridiculous.

Season Eight was more of the same for me. Sometimes she’d have a little more, but it would be nowhere near what she used to have. 8×13 showed her back in prominence, but it was an overhyped gimmicky episode that failed to satisfy on a deep level. Patrick Dempsey’s very noticeably decreased screentime, hinders Meredith in a way. They got a storyline, yes, but they didn’t get a lot to do with it. And what they did… was trite and/or unimportant. We can blame some of the past two seasons on the outrageous number of principle characters that the writers must contend with on a weekly basis, but there really is no excuse. This show was built around Meredith Grey. Five years later, it’s almost unrecognizable. Not in terms of story, or cast, but in terms of structure. It’s incredibly noticeable. And I know that some will disagree, because they never cared for Meredith, but it HAS hurt the show. The lack of a focus, or center, makes everything seem so out of balance. This doesn’t equate to having the most to do every week. If the story is focused on Callie… then have Meredith work with Callie… it’s very simple. Meredith needs to be in the middle. She doesn’t have to be doing everything… but she’s the center. Without a center, the show wobbles along aimlessly.

Yes, she’s back. All the originals are back. But now that they are safely signed for two more years, do we really think they’ll be getting a lot to play? Especially Ellen? I’ll believe it when I see it. And that quote above, just hit me right to the core of the issue. And I just had to share.

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A month later, Patrick Dempsey told an interviewer that the reason he re-signed for two seasons was, “[j]ob security.” I responded:

I can’t speak for them as I don’t know them, but it seems that every season Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey get less and less invested in their characters and the show artistically. We know that they both care about the fans, they like having a job, and they’ll stay forever as long as they can continue to race/parent. They level critiques about the series, but although we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, we never hear about them fighting for better material. Sandra Oh, it has been reported, fights for good material and constantly wants to know what is happening with her character. Pompeo and Dempsey, however grateful and loyal they may be, come across as being primarily concerned with picking up a paycheck and going home at the sound of the bell. We complain that Shonda has added so many characters to the show. But, let’s face it–not only has she not known which of her regulars would resign at a particular time, but it has been reported that actors have, in the past, requested time off. Shonda admitted to adding more characters to ease the burden on Pompeo and Dempsey. All well and good, but they are imperative to the show’s success. It’s so obvious, that ABC is willing to increase their salaries to the point where they have to cut other regulars. (In fairness, other actors got raises too.)

But is it enough to just have them around? Is it enough to have Derek in four scenes an episode? (This is just an example. In 8×21, Dempsey was in four scenes, I believe.) Maybe for some. However, I truly believe, from what I have seen, that if Pompeo and Dempsey wanted to have more substantial stuff to do, the writers would give it to them. On a side note, they both want to see their characters happy. But does that make great television? Meredith and Derek in three one-minute scenes talking about how happy they are… That’s not quality storytelling. If they wanted the show to be better, wouldn’t they hunger for really juicy and meaty material? Yes, they, like some of the fans, were frustrated with all of the back and forth, and reportedly told Shonda this in Season Four, but… it just seems like the whole acting thing is not as exciting to them as it used to be. Now it’s a peripheral concern. And it’s a shame because, in my opinion, it shows in both the writing and the acting.

It’s not enough to remain loyal and tell the fans that they know the show is average. They should want and fight for it not to be. And I hope this doesn’t come across as being derogatory, this is just what I have gotten from all of the interviews I’ve seen over the past eight or so years.

And later…

When it comes to a lack of commitment, we can’t really blame Dempsey because he has rarely gotten juicy material to play–especially since Meredith and Derek became unbreakable. (Perhaps a mistake, as obviously the writers can’t support and sustain this development properly.) But, he and the writers, are guilty of downplaying his prominence in the show. Yes, he’s the star and gets paid accordingly, but he doesn’t get written accordingly. And it seems like he doesn’t mind, unfortunately. Maybe a lack of commitment isn’t the right word, but it does come across as indifference.

Pompeo, however, not only has had her prominence downplayed (because of backlash after the drowning, Pompeo’s own requests/family matters, and the writer’s inability to write enthralling stuff for her), but, at least in my eyes, has shown a decidedly decreased lack of commitment and focus in her portrayal. Now, I blame the writers for about 75% of this. But it IS a two way street, and when we see interviews that give impressions like these, it is clear that it’s not totally the writers faults. She needs good material. Actors thrive on good material. This show needs to be written a whole hell of a lot better. Meredith especially. But even with mediocre material, it would be nice to feel like she cared a bit more. I think she’s a fascinating actress who makes surprising and dynamic choices. But that quality, in general, gets less and less apparent with each passing season. I adore her work and think she seems like a very sweet person and a committed wife and mother, but I wish her dedication and excitement in being the one and only Meredith Grey was more evident- both in script prominence and individual craft.

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I would just like to add that Pompeo joined Twitter in April of this year. And she had slightly more to do in Season Nine, though it was only the predictable sweeps milestone stuff. This month, in response to other fans’ hopes that the show would focus on other characters and they would be able to “develop” like Meredith, I posted this:

Except Meredith’s “development” was as inorganic as Gizzie. Little bits of screen time here and there where she *poof* has a fiancé and *poof* has a husband and *poof* has an adopted child and *poof* has a natural child. All done to placate the fans with no real genuine attempts to naturally evolve her. Much as I loved the character in the first five seasons, she’s been a placeholder in the past few seasons. By that, I mean that her journey was no longer of interest to the writers, as evidenced by the poor material they’ve given her. I’ll never understand why some fans think her character is serviced more than the others. It isn’t. Natural development is a difficult thing for these writers to master. And that goes for all of the characters.

I am not sure if the show could survive without her. They need here there. Just as an anchor. Obviously neither the quantity nor quality of her material is of great importance to the POWERS THAT BE. They just need her there in some capacity. So they’ll try and convince her to sign for another year. And if the price is right, I’m sure she’ll acquiesce.

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Grey’s Anatomy was briefly a great show. When it was great, I got hooked. It’s no longer great. And it’s a damn shame.

 

Grey’s Anatomy won’t always be the topic on Wildcard Wednesdays. The series was just on my mind and I thought I’d share. Come back tomorrow for Xena Thursday!

 
 
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