Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! Just as with last season, I’m here to keep you all periodically updated with my thoughts regarding one of the soapiest primetime shows on network television, Grey’s Anatomy. The eleventh season kicked off last week with a fairly routine episode that nevertheless managed to propel all the story lines in a predictable, albeit, logical (a rarity for this series) trajectory.
Let’s dive right in. Cristina Yang was my favorite character on the series. Sandra Oh was the best actress and she constantly fought for strong material that would challenge her abilities. The result was Shonda Rhimes’ most multi-dimensional character to date. This is the first episode without the show’s most beloved doctor. And while I — along with many other fans — spent a lot of last season worrying about what the show would be like without her, I must admit: I didn’t miss her. Why? Well, there are still too many characters and too many story lines. So there wasn’t time. I’m sure as the weeks roll on, I’ll miss the many ways in which both the actress and the character made the series seem better than it usually is.
The show has been on for almost ten years, and with any series that has had this much longevity — especially one confined to the walls of a hospital — there’s going to be a lot of storyline recycling. That truism was especially present in the series premiere. As usual, there was a small disaster on the GSMH premises. Not a shooter, or a bomb, or a flood; a hospital bed that fell off the roof and hit a car in the parking lot. As usual, there was some mild titillation, as the unlucky saps in the car were caught engaging in some sort of sexual activity. Yawn. We’ve seen all this before, right? There was nothing new on the medical front. Nothing new. Meanwhile, Meredith and Derek are having more problems. And as usual, they spent most of the time avoiding each other until their obligatory shared scene in the sixth act. This story has basically been going on since the middle of last season, and it’s tiring. I’m happy to see them get a storyline, but again, if this is a ploy to get Dempsey more time off, then just do it and stop dragging this out. Derek, like several of the males on this show, has never been a well-developed character. I’m not sure if there is ANY storyline that could make Meredith and Derek interesting at this point (they’ve been boring since Season Six), but if there is, I implore the writers to find it. This isn’t cutting it. As usual.
Rhimes’ other favorite couple, Callie and Arizona, seem to be going through a story that Bailey and Ben already went through. One member of the couple is essentially going back to school. As I’ve said before, the writers never fully repaired the damage done to the Callie/Arizona relationship. I think the show knows this, and I think this baggage will come back to haunt the couple. As for this particular storyline, which sees the introduction of a scary-looking Geena Davis, it’s a little too unimaginative for these usually kooky Grey‘s scribes. Speaking of unimaginative, the other two “powerhouse couples,” who each at one time or another have been used as the series’ requisite “on-again/off-again” pair, seem to be in periods of low or cheaply manufactured drama. Jackson and April didn’t scream at each other tonight. And while I’ve never rooted for them (nor will I ever — because I’ve never been implored to organically care about them) I hate to see them sucking up airtime with their poorly written squabbles.
That brings us to Jo. She and Amelia, who was mercifully used infrequently this episode, are tied in my mind as the show’s most annoying characters. They were both “try hard” figures from their inception. The writers were working overtime to make the characters “sassy” and “bold” and “interesting.” In short, they came on too strong. So then the writers tried to reverse that. The result, as always, is a cheap and inconsistent character. I will reserve judgement on Amelia’s place in this series, but I probably won’t ever like Jo. Of course, the writers make not liking her an easy task; stuck in another trite storyline, in which Meredith and Alex’s friendship is impeding on her relationship with Alex, Jo is little more than a time waster, just like all the interns in her class. (Thank heavens we’re only down to two now.) As for Meredith and Alex being stuck in this storyline, my only reaction is disappointment that the series still feels the need to do this “crawling into bed with friends” bit. Haven’t they taken pains to express how much these characters have grown? While I have always liked the Meredith and Alex friendship and agree that they should grow even closer now that Cristina is gone, I have a hard time believing characters this “evolved” (as the writers would like us to believe) would behave like they did in Season Two. Simply: it’s dumb.
Another familiar storyline that looks like it will be dragged out is the competition between Bailey and Alex for Cristina’s seat on the board. While these machinations were dramatic gold on a series like Private Practice, this kind of plot just doesn’t work with this show. The board drama is not engaging. In fact, it has produced some of this series’ weakest episodes. (See mid Season Nine.) The chief resident stuff was interesting seven years ago, the hospital ownership B.S. is not. Other beats that I feel like I’ve seen before are the males’ attempt to bond with Owen. This show has never written male interactions logically. This is a show by women for women. (Yes, there are male writers. But the tone of the show usually suppresses the episodes from ever feeling “masculine” in the traditional sense of the word.) And while, this feminine slant is far from being a hinderance for the series (see the demographics), all of the men’s scenes together come off stilted and artificial. The dialogue rings false. And that never seems to change.
Of course, the biggest case of storyline recycling is Meredith vs. the sister she didn’t know about. Rhimes maintain that this arc was always going to happen. And I believe her. (Although, I do think they toyed with having it be a brother — remember the diaries from Season Five? I think it was supposed to come from that plot point.) But this beat is not unlike Lexie’s addition to the show at the top of Season Four. In fact, the parallels are too much. Not surprisingly, this episode’s mission was to put Meredith and her half-sis at odds. And while I don’t have a problem with that tired development, I think the scene with them fighting was overkill. Not only is this indicative of the Grey‘s writers insulting the audience’s intelligence by telegraphing a story point (even after it has already played out on screen), it also it reeks of recycled beats — the kind that have been played back in 2007 with Lexie.
But I know the show is now committed to the storyline, and I’ll have to grin and bear it. So my only request is a simple one: make this unlike the Meredith-Lexie relationship. Let their friendship (or temporary lack thereof) develop organically. Don’t have them go from “She’s not my sister” to “You’re my sister” without any motivated development (as Meredith and Lexie did sometime in between 5×08 and 5×20). The Lexie storyline, as it pertained to Meredith, was a bust. Since the show is basically doing it over again, this is their chance to get it right. If the series accomplishes this, I will forgive them for the soapy development.
I am sure that all of my complaints in this post have made it seem like I didn’t like the season premiere. That’s not true. I liked it okay; I just thought it was familiar and boring. The episode, like most season opener’s, gave a lot to Meredith. And as regular readers know, I believe this is a key ingredient to the show’s success. I think if the show keeps Meredith in the center, even if all of the peripheral stories are things we’ve already seen before, the show will at least maintain the mediocrity for which it has become known as of late. Yes, it’s middling, but it really isn’t bad. In fact, this episode illustrates the strength of the series’ production team: picking the stories up where they left off — in a realistic and (largely) organic way. That’s quite a feat for a series this seasoned. So, though I wasn’t thrilled, I wasn’t disappointed. I hope it at least continues this way. Of course, it could stand to get better too. A lot better.
Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in tomorrow for more Xena!