Sunday, August 06, 2006

TV: Grey Enemy

The enemy of my enemy is my friend? That's the Arab proverb, right? So we (Ava and C.I.) should be thrilled with Grey's Anatomy. It's a successful show that, in the fall, will go head to head with all things Bruckheimer (CSI) as ABC and CBS duke it out (and NBC sits it out though no one at that network appears to have grasped that -- they didn't grasp that Joey was a dog that needed to be put down immediately either).

A genuine scripted show (no Deal or No Deal) going up against the Ikea-self-assembly-required that spawned a franchise, how could we not root for it? Add in that we know a number of people with this show (those who've been bugging us to take a look were warned ahead of time about this review), how could we not like it?

Life is strange.

Sometimes the egg you think is boiled isn't.

And sometimes the yolk gets all over you.

Putting all your eggs in one basket isn't a good thing.

Unless it's Easter.

Life, like bad narration, can sap you of all your energy.

If the above excited you we'd suggest that a) you really need to put down those Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul "books" and b) you watch Grey's Anatomy until life slaps you hard enough that you grasp the difference between babble and insight.

If bad narration does it for you, ABC has a show for you.

In her best little-Dana-Plato-stoned-but-hoping-no-one-notices voice, Meredith Grey (played by Ellen Pompeo) offers up wit-free non-observations such as this:

At the end of the day, faith is a funny thing.

It's like one day you realize the fairy tale may be slightly different than you dreamed.

Only slightly different? Honey, get a life. Deep thoughts for the ones writing "too true" in the margins of Who Moved My Cheese?

Call that strike one. Fortunately the voice overs tend to book-end the show so, unlike How I Met Your Mother, they don't constantly butt into the storyline. They're annoying as hell. They're the scripted equivalent of the news crawl. The people behind them either don't trust the audiences' ability to grasp the point or their own abilities to make a point so they layer on more and more dialogue. (Hard to believe, with all the excess chatter on TV today, that the "moving pictures" were once so successful without any spoken word at all.)

Strike two? Try strikes two and three. The show's setting is a teaching hospital and we follow young interns (in, you know this is coming, love) learning about medicine. You need to grasp that because there's no evidence that the characters (or writers) have. Oh, they've grasped it enough to have the characters shown learning medical techniques; however, that's about all they seem to have grasped.

If that confuses you, congratulations, because you can probably write for this show. If that confuses you and you already write for this show, you owe some apologies.

Question: Who goes to a teaching hospital?

Who is willing to have a gaggle of interns parade past their bedside shooting out questions that they frequently don't seem too involved with or interested in the answers to?

It's usually lower income people. A lot of them may be uninsured. We get that point. There's no evidence that the writers do. Their ignornace is brought home loudest in a first year episode where a woman with a fifty-pound tumor is treated like crap.

Oh, they put on their fake faces when they know she can hear but only then. Intern Alex (played by Justin Chambers) gets into trouble for commenting on her girth, wondering how she can live with herself and much more. Now no one corrects his attitude, he's just in trouble because the patient heard. If you don't grasp that, you need wait only minutes before others are making similar statements (as Alex himself points out).

The woman will explain, later in the episode, that she is scared of hospitals, that everyone she knows who goes into one dies (she will die as well). Now why do you supposed that is?

Why do you suppose that an obviously lower-income woman would know a hospital only as a place of death? Could it be because the people she knows, the people in the same financial circumstances, don't have the money to go to the doctor for every ache and pain -- so they wait and wait, maybe try to self-medicate with something over the counter?

For a medical drama (even one trying to blend in comedy and romance while piling on the soap) not to grasp the care situation in this country calls into question every element of the show. This really offended us so let's be clear on this and walk through slowly.

This woman had a tumor. You may be used to the 'realistic' portrayals of doctors who think she brought it on herself by smoking. You might be prepared for that kind of lecture and mouth foaming. This woman didn't smoke.

This woman ended up with a tumor, a fifty-pound tumor. There's no concern for her, there's no concern over how she ended up with it. There is blame. Blame that she didn't immediately go to a doctor. She didn't know it was a tumor, she thought it was weight gain. She clearly couldn't afford regular medical care (like so many in this country who have to use the ER as their primary care). There's no indication of awareness on the part of the characters. That's the interns, that's the teaching residents.

That's strike two and three. ER blazed a trail by being aware of the world around it. Grey's Anatomy prefers to be, like Meredith in the midst of surgery repeatedly staring up into the observation area at her lover, oblivious to medical realities.

So it's not that surprising that the show's come under fire from the medical community for a variety of reasons. Insulting nurses was one. Lack of professional conduct was another -- which might refer to when resident Derek (played by Patrick Dempsey) loudly discussed glow-in-the dark condoms with his intern lover Meredith in the midst of a busy hospital hall or possibly it had to do with the screaming Derek got, in front of others at the hospital, from his wife (yes, his wife) Addison (played by Kate Walsh) about his apathy. There are hundreds to choose from, pick your own. There's also objection to what some see as a Ripley's Believe It Or Not approach to case histories (which may include the removal of a pole that's gone through two bodies or may include the fact that Meredith had been drinking shots prior to reporting for that surgical procedure).

On the latter, fortunately what passes for "news" on ABC can be readily enlisted to vouch for ABC product. For instance, on March 20, 2006, Nightline provided infomercial time for Grey's Anatomy. Clearly, product was the most important story in the world. It's not like it was the anniversary of the illegal war in Iraq, or that 45 people had died the day before (Sunday) in Iraq, or there weren't two press reports breaking over the weekend leading up to the Monday show about US troops allegedly killing Iraqis (Haditha and a village near Balad), or that former Iraqi prime minister (and puppet) Allawi had told the BBC the day before "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is." Oh wait, all of that did happen. And Nightline was focusing on a TV drama/comedy/soap.

Instead of addressing those issues, Nightline attempted to Happy Talk it through the racial diversity Grey's Anatomy supposedly offers. Ourseleves, we see a lot of White. We see it in the patients, we see it in the extras, we see it in the cast. We see their "efforts" with regards to race representation only slightly better than their Texas casting. You have three African-Americans (one of whom has a love life that's portrayed on the show) and you have a Korean-Canadian. That's four people of color. Two more people of color than they have cast members from Texas. (Water Cooler Critics, we've told you for almost two years now that this is a trend!) (You also have a Latina that strikes us as a minor character.)

The remaining characters (with active love lives)? White. The big love triangle, White. This is a soap, a weak one, but if you didn't catch on that this was daytime drama airing in prime time by the first episode, you should have caught on, first season, when a "dramatic" ending featured the line, "And you must be the woman screwing my husband."

If you somehow overlooked that and you actually watch the show, exactly what did you think the "I will save the man I love and steal him a heart!" storyline involving Izzy (played by Katherine Heigl) and Denny was?

We'll give them credit for casting people of color, we just wouldn't devote a Nightline episode to it (even on a slow news day). This is your basic mid-eighties type show -- cast wise. It's not an advancement. Or, to put it in medical terms, it may stop the bleeding but shouldn't it be doing that without any pats on the shoulders? Broadcast television recognizing and responding to the fact that America is not 100% White strikes us as basic -- first aid, not heart surgery.

What does the show have going for it? It's fast paced. The actors are all performing on different pages, but they do a a good job within their characters. (And the confusion in the 'raw drama' versus 'melodrama' performance from actor to actor may have something to do with the confusion over what the show is supposed to be -- we'd order up a psych consult for the writers.)

Sandra Oh (who plays Christina Yang) and Katherine Heigl repeatedly surprise and thrill with their choices. Chandra Wilson's delivery and body language pour life into the one note character of Miranda Bailey.

But we're back to the question of whether or not the enemy of my enemy is my friend?


But we don't accept, as a rule, that the enemy of our enemy is our friend.

Sometimes, it's just another enemy.

Maybe Grey's Anatomy will help put the CBS franchise to rest? Maybe not. We don't have a dog in this fight. If we haven't spelled it out for you, one viewing of Grey's Anatomy should drive the point home.
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