Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Hey! Where's my theme song?: Grey's Anatomy, season 2


Before we begin, take a moment to remember that weird little music box twinkle that the theme song was eventually reduced to before it disappeared entirely in favor of the menacing chords of doom we were introduced to in the two-part (three-episode) season finale.

There it is. Right there. Yeah. You remember it.

Anyway, thanks to the lack of a breakout new hit, the skyrocketing Grey's Anatomy (and the also skyrocketing House) turned into the big ratings stories of the year almost by default. It didn't hurt that Grey's overcame its first season false starts to find its true rhythm in its second year.

But that's not to say the show is perfect. Not by a long shot.

Grey's is a show I want to love. I really want to take it into my arms and hug the life out of it. Instead, I hold it at arm's length. I wasn't really sure why, either, until the season finale. So let's take a look at that show as an expression of the series and its problems as a whole.

I think the biggest problem with the show is one that most network series have: It burns through story too quickly. Obviously, this is the appeal of a network series at some level. It's fun to tune in and see plot twist after plot twist (preferably if you don't see those plot twists coming -- something Grey's specializes at). But at some point, you begin to sacrifice character realism for super-cool plot twists. And the process of how quickly you burn through story is getting faster and faster and faster. To the point where Grey's may have burned through all of the stories naturally suggested by its initial situations midway through season two.

In the finale, the character of Izzy does some ridiculously contrived things to keep a man she proclaims to love alive. Now, this man (Denny) is a fine character. But he's not someone we've become invested with. Plus, we haven't set up that Izzy is willing to do anything to land a guy. She, indeed, held off a guy who was pretty interested in her for some time. So what makes THIS guy special? The show is trying to force her into a relationship that seems, at best, contrived.

Also, look at the way they've turned Alex from agreeable rogue to agreeable rogue with a heart of gold to all-out villain to service the plot. The guy just went EVIL there for a while in a way that real people never do. And then, in the finale, when the show needed him to have that heart of gold again, he found it.

But this wouldn't be so bad if the stakes on the show were higher. As it is, the patients just aren't people we care about. They tend to be metaphors for the characters' interpersonal relationships, and that makes it hard to care about them as patients, when we know all they're going to be doing is exemplifying conflicts within the story. They're cannon fodder, in essence. Exceedingly well-cast cannon fodder. But cannon fodder nonetheless.

This lowers the stakes almost irreparably. At some point, the surgeries stop being interesting, and all we care about are the various soap opera pairings, which are eventually going to run out.

All of this might be acceptable, of course, were it not for the quirk. Quirk is a hard thing to master, but this show was doing a good job of it. At some point, though, (it may have been the apartment in the hospital) it all started to fall off the tightrope. The hospital prom in the finale may have actually been the last straw.

And I haven't even talked about the show's weird relationship to its female protagonists, wherein they are strong, beautiful, knowledgeable women who drop everything for a man. ER McBeal indeed.

Despite all of this, the show is darn addictive. It's just good TV storytelling at some level, and the actors make it all work.

I don't think Grey's is going to be one of those everlasting hits, but it's going to be fun while it lasts. The train may derail next season. It may derail three years from now. But eventually, this tightrope is going to get to be hard to walk.

But I'm along for the ride. Against my will, maybe. But along for the ride anyway.

Coming soon: Prison Break, season one; a tale of three comedies; and the two shows about guys who just want to stop being single.

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