I’ve been avoiding Grey’s Anatomy for 5 seasons now, but with critics bemoaning the show’s rapid demise (as in sex scenes with a g-g-ghost!),
I decided to check it out while I still could. Best case scenario: It’s
so bad it’s good. Worse case scenario: It’s offensive enough to warrant
a scathing blog post.
But, to my surprise, neither was true.
So why does Shonda Rhimes’ dubious hit – winner of the 2007 Golden Globe Award for Best Drama Television Series and what Entertainment Weekly calls one of “this season’s most maligned shows by fans” – still get over ten million viewers a week? The optimistic feminist in me wants to believe it has to do with the show’s diverse slate of characters.
For instance, a majority of the doctors at Seattle Grace Hospital are women, and many of them are women of color. There’s a lot of range in personality among the female characters, from neurotic Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) to stern Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) to perky Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl), and then some. It’s a rare workplace drama in which we see women of varying perspectivies discussing medicine, arguing over decisions, and cooperating to pull off improbable procedures…often without a man in sight. Sounds great, right?
But even when the men are out of sight, they’re not out of mind. The show has been criticized since its inception for portraying successful lady doctors as insecure, frivolous, and relationship-obsessed.
Those critics do have a point. But I’m not convinced that there’s anything wrong with women taking interest in their work and their relationships in the same episode. We see them being vulnerable, but vulnerable characters are much more interesting.
The real problem lies in the effect their emotions are shown to have on their work. Even the toughest female doctors often have extreme emotional reactions when the pressure is on.
There’s nothing wrong with emotional moments in a night-time soap…except for the fact that the male doctors manage to keep their cool in the operating room. Or did I miss the episode where McDreamy bursts into tears at work?
Grey’s Anatomy did break a little feminist ground last season in its portrayal of a romantic relationship between two female doctors, the first one in which “two regular characters on a network show have begun a lesbian romance, as opposed to one becoming involved with a new lesbian character introduced expressly for that relationship” (AfterEllen.com). Shondra Rhimes even consulted with GLAAD in preparation for the storyline. But it ended abruptly at the beginning of this season, supposedly at the behest of ABC execs. It’s been rumored that another lesbian relationship is in the works, though, so cross your fingers for redemption (if you care).
Anyway, Grey’s Anatomy is a better show than I expected. It’s not mind-blowingly smart or interesting, but it’s diverting enough to spend an hour on. My theory is that female fans of the show enjoy the following a drama with enough whimsy to make it fun and enough tragedy to keep it interesting. The diverse cast and female-dominated workplace keeps the show from being so offensive that one has to worry about losing everything they learned in college to women’s-programming brain rot. Even my inner feminist critic could sit back and enjoy it…for the most part.