This week, we’re revisiting Grey’s Anatomy. Now in its 17th season (Yes, the show is almost old enough to vote), it debuted to critical acclaim in 2005. Created by Shonda Rhimes, it chronicled the professional and personal lives of surgical interns at Seattle Grace Hospital. This quirky medical drama proved Network TV could still matter; Grey’s earned both Emmy’s and tons of money for ABC. But does this soap hold up in 2020? Let’s assess!
Arguments In Favor
Surgeons of all races, queer characters and interracial relationships aren’t reserved for “Very Special Episodes” on Grey’s Anatomy. From the beginning, the series represented our world as it really is. While earlier medical dramas tokenized LGBTQ and BIPOC characters (Hello, ER!), Grey’s was never about checking boxes. Rhimes refers to this progressive approach to representation as “normalizing.” Because guess what? It is normal for queer female surgeons to be married to each other. It is normal to have a hospital where the doctors aren’t disproportionately white. And it IS normal to see people of different races fall in love and to root for them to make it. Thanks, Shonda, for making so many people feel seen!
Ingrid Michaelson, Tegan and Sarah, Jem! The music featured on Grey’s Anatomy was basically the soundtrack to my 20s. The show’s legendary music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas, gave countless indie bands a boost when she showcased their songs on the series. Patsavas is a master and always will be.
The Depiction of Female Friendship
In 2005, Dr. Christina Yang coined a term for platonic life partners. In anticipation of an abortion, she put her pal Meredith down as her “emergency contact person.” This led to the iconic scene at Joe’s Bar, when Christina tells Mer, “You’re my person.” Suddenly, close female friends everywhere had a way of expressing what they meant to each other. The term articulated a bond even deeper than friendship, a connection so strong, you knew your person would always be there when you needed them. Again, thanks Shonda!
The Sexual Harassment
On the pilot episode of Grey’s Anatomy, Meredith discovers her latest hookup is actually her boss’s boss. Horrified, she informs the man dubbed Dr. McDreamy they can no longer canoodle. McDreamy doesn’t accept this boundary, and subsequently wears the intern down until she agrees to date him. Later, it turns out he’s married, unbeknownst to Meredith. So yes, this secretly married surgeon sexually harasses an intern to ensure his extra-marital affair continues. Not an auspicious beginning, yet somehow this relationship becomes Grey’s Anatomy’s One True Pairing; Meredith and McDreamy get married and have three whole children! At one point, they get married on a post-it, which is just as twee as it sounds.
In the era of Me Too, the Meredith/McDreamy romance feels a little unsavoury. However, this couple isn’t the series’ only example of an icky relationship! The show is littered with examples of attending physicians pursuing subordinates. I’m not saying workplace romances can never work, but the show portrays doctors dating interns like it’s a rite of passage. Plus, the relationships rarely end well. Can’t these people just get Tinder and stop jumping each other in on-calls rooms?
The Use of Women’s Traumas to Advance The Plot
Why does every female character lead such a traumatic life? Meredith almost dies thrice a season. She’s come close to getting blown up in an ER, survived a plane crash that killed her sister, had a miscarriage during a mass shooting, and nearly died in childbirth twice. How does this woman get up in the morning? Why does she continue to work at Seattle Grace, AKA The Most Dangerous Work Environment In America? The other female characters fare no better – remember when April delivered a baby via c-section without anesthetic, on Meredith’s kitchen table? Or the time Christina had to operate on Derek with a gun pointed to her head? I’m not convinced the show needs to put ladies in constant peril in order to be watchable…
Overall, Grey’s Anatomy holds up super well. Do I wish Meredith didn’t end up with Derek? In my heart, yes! Would I like to see fewer harrowing childbirth scenes each season? F-ck yes! But those flaws feel like quibbles in the grand scheme of things. Shonda Rhimes revolutionized representation on mainstream TV, and she gave women everywhere permission to admit best friends sometimes matter more than boyfriends. I’m so glad we live in a world where Grey’s Anatomy exists…