May 28, 2014

The anatomy of 'Greys'

“Sandra Oh is leaving!” screamed the blurb from my Facebook news feed recently.
“Sandra WHO?” I thought, dutifully clicking on the link. 
Turns out NBC's  prime-time drama, 'Greys Anatomy' hit the usual high finale note as the 2014 season ended. 

'All about my mom' book
Now, whenever I imagined blogging about TV, I saw myself indulging my immense 'West Wing' fixation, though it's passed into the annals of television history years ago. I imagined some delicious deep delving into it’s glowing idealism, deconstructing its themes and inferring its inner messages with an adolescent glee. 

Even my seven-year-old caught onto my mania. Mainly because I complained incessantly about my nasty addiction and how it was eating into my free evening time while spiking TV viewing hours into the stratosphere - compared to my usual near-zero baseline.

Imagine my surprise then, to feel compelled to discuss  'Grey's Anatomy' instead.

I've reflected honestly on my conflict with self-image when it comes to TV viewing: "Tasteless TV tasty food" is my internal war-cry when I'm seeking comfort and release. But 'Grey's Anatomy' , with it's tawdry reputation for melodrama and superficiality, has been my embarrassing secret in spite of all rationalizing. Not anymore, but not because I've suddenly grown the confidence to own my trashy taste: that woudl be entirely too upstanding a thing to do. It's because I've finally managed to un-trash-ify it.

While trying to explain my bewildering tastelessness to my husband who, like many others, scoffs at all dramedies, I finally figured out why I like it: ‘Greys Anatomy'  is swollen with Hope.

Let me count the ways.

Who let the underdogs out? Who. Who. Who-who.
   Central characters embody stories of survival and odds-beating. This holds true even as the seasonal revolving doors bring new (but always pretty) faces in and out of the cast. There are doctors who used to be neglected and abused as children (Alex, Mark), foster-care homeless runaways  (Izzy, Wilson) and dark-horses from under-educated backgrounds (George, Kepner). They blast their way to unlikely success, all the while generating enough salacious and dramatic shock-waves to keep viewers happy, ratings-aware studio execs to catharsis-seeking couch potatoes.
     Even the characters with silver spoons in their pouty little mouths (Meredith, Derek, Jackson, Christina) are riddled with character flaws that are mercilessly followed to their deserved comeuppance. The characters openly own their elitism and self-absorption even as they try to correct for them. And they always, always, suffer. It's hardly a celebration of privilege if the privileged are shown to be completely dysfunctional and miserable. Hope lies in that they are still clawing their way past their very human flaws.
Broken people rock. Unapologetically.
  The hallways are littered with moaning patients at least a few times every season as writers punch up the sputtering romantic plot-lines with mass emergencies. Yet the walking wounded are always the doctors, almost all of them, dysfunctional and utterly silly. Among them, the golden duo of BFF-pride: Yang and Grey. 
  Christina Yang, the cold, driven, self absorbed shrew, bizarrely scores mass popularity in the hospital community with her poorly-concealed kind heart while winning peer respect with her sheer brilliance. Meredith Grey, an entitled, self-indulgent, talented brat, is more complacent than penitent about her self-confessed eccentricities. The 'twisted' sisters', they call themselves with a deluded sort of pride. Trite and disingenuous? Perhaps. But also hope-filled because they are two of the many imperfect peoples trying to find themselves.  Though the shows seems to celebrate the whiny “Me! me! me!”  narratives of it's beautiful people, over time, it turns out to really be about how those people are slowly owning and altering their flawed personalities, making their lives work ins pite of them. As we all should.
   There’s also this: I would not ordinarily applaud the celebration of smugness and self-indulgence of most Yang and Grey storylines, yet I find immense release in seeing the crafting of an unapologetic pair of female characters. The women are not afraid to accept themselves fully, crazy and all. They also own their ambition, drive and innovation as powerfully and completely as any man. More like this, please.

Feminism under-the radar
  Following from that, with Christina Yang all that inherent feminism steps up a notch (or twelve) when she aborts an unexpected pregnancy. Though conceived with a beloved partner, she agonizes then terminates because she is:
a) clear about her emotional indifference to motherhood (breaking with the default Madonna stereotype that women will inevitably choose motherhood over career)
b) unwilling to be side-tracked from her career and life goals, both of which happen to be the same (same stereotype, now lying in tatters around her scrubs-clad person). 
   Moreover, her upheaval over a miscarriage in an earlier season touches upon the complexity in this kind of decision making. In a subtle yet important way it illustrates that even the clinical, practical ‘un-mom’ has trouble dealing with the loss of imminent life: decisions about child-bearing are not easy for anyone. Yang goes it alone time and time again in tumultuous conditions without a man but with her figurative village of friends. How many under-the-radar strides for feminism can you count here? All delivered innocuously in the guise of melodrama and entertainment. 

Sex is meant to be funny
   The eye-rolling amount of sex in on-call and supply rooms is so unreal that it simply has to be tongue-in-cheek. Even the seriously meant steamy trysts are beleaguered by hilarious missteps. Like suffering private-parts that are subject to everything from poison ivy to breakage from over-use. Also, melodramatic fall-outs: one doc's deceased lover's GHOST actually stars in the show for a whole season while another injured doctors soul or rises out of her body to SING herself back to life int he name of love. Unintended romantic pratfalls seem to constantly accompany the ceaseless libidos of the hospital staff. What else to do but assume it’s there for laughs? There are worse ways to get them. 

GLBT community insights from the comfort of your couch
   Callie and Arizona typically light up the screen with their bouncy hair and dazzling smiles while over-reacting to almost everything. They also shuck off tragedies like used surgical gloves though only after enough melodrama has been wrung out of them. Scriptwriters pull-out all the stops with these two: one loses a best friend and almost loses their child, the other loses a prestigious job and a leg and both cry rivers of 'strong women' tears every season. Man Woman, do their plot lines arc to emotional satisfaction! What they also bring though is homosexuality, in stark detail and into the average American living room. 
  No punches are pulled from graphic content. Meaning, women canoodle (with each other) as casually, often and with as much on-screen steam generation as the hunky men, aptly nicknamed Drs. McSteamy and McDreamy. Perhaps as importantly, their stories openly explore the relationship challenges faces by same-sex couples. Interesting that the stories reveal that these are mostly the exact same challenges faced by hetero couples.
   I don't mean this as a trite piece of exhibitionism: I'm hardly advocating virtual cultural safaris to look at homosexuality from the outside. Yet, I think I am. With my limited knowledge of homosexual lifestyles (I have very few gay friends and none who are close), I can't help think this is a great way to bring under-familiar lives into the mainstream. It's perhaps over-simplified in the way snapshots typically are but familiarity can have a normalizing effect on the un- or little-known. The tokenism of the 'Will and Grace' days are as passe as their undertones of derision are inappropriate. This show seems to get it right with its non-judgmental casualness.

Scientific optimism instead of credibility
  Any scientific credibility in content is suspect to a lay, non-physician like myself, if only because of the ‘drama’ genre of the show which promises hyperbole after all, not realism. Also because I can only hope that when I go under the knife (as odds are I will), my surgeons will spend less time chit-chatting or cooing at each other over my exposed innards and spend more time attending to them. But then again what do I know? Experience and practice are everything after all. (They had better be, otherwise I'm lying through my teeth to my 7 year old son every day at violin practice time).
  Once unfettered from expectations of validity though, the scientific optimism running through the shows swims into focus. An orthopedic surgeon grows cartilage in a lab, a cardiologist 3D-prints hearts, a neurosurgeon uses brain controlled virtual reality to treat quadriplegia and a general practitioner mobilizes the deactivated AIDS virus to deliver genetic cures for fatal diseases. It's a sketch of a brave new world that does not seem entirely shrouded in a futuristic mist. The ideas may be medically fanciful but appear rooted in enough credible technology to allow for Hope. Who knows what's next. And how.

And so ends my song of adoration for'Grey's Anatomy'. It's no 'West Wing' and totally lacks the biting satire of the Colberts and Stewarts who tower intellectually over today's entertainment choices. But it deals in Almosts, Perhaps and Broken People who win through anyway. 

Those are not bad things to take-away from mindless TV. 

Oyon-ism, 7+
Upon hearing a Bengali  folktale where a Raja (king) sentences some wicked women to death by beheading for their ghastly crimes...
Oyon: Executioners should get a different job. Their job is awful.
Me: True. Chopping off heads must be so horrible.
Oyon: No, I mean it must be so boring. There's probably only one head to chop each day so what do they do the rest of the time, just sit around in the dark dungeon?
Me (a little apalled): But, isn't it also awful that they are killing people?
Oyon: Kind of but those jealous sisters deserved it. They tried to kill their sister's babies! If people kept killing babies, who would be left to turn into adults? You'd end up with like, ONE person in the world and one person can't do EVERYthing.

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