The Opinion of a Loyal Fan
The year was 2005, and I was a 25-year-old administrative assistant working at a nonprofit in Boston. I was carefully combing through the obituaries section of a local newspaper searching for tribute and memorial gifts when my friend and colleague, George, broke my concentration.
“Have you been watching Grey’s Anatomy?” he asked.
We often bonded over our mutual TV addiction, but I hadn’t watched the new primetime drama because I assumed it was just like the other medical shows of the 80s and 90s, updated versions of St. Elsewhere, Chicago Hope, and ER.
“You don’t know what you’re missing,” said George.
I was about to scan the next column of obituaries when he began explaining the show’s premise. He excitedly told me about part one of the two-part episode, “It’s the End of the World” (Season 2, Episode 16) that had aired the night before. I stopped scanning the newspaper and gave him my undivided attention when he mentioned that one of my favorite actresses, Christina Ricci, had a guest-starring role. She was playing a new paramedic named Hannah who was holding a bomb lodged inside the chest cavity of a man to stop him from bleeding out.
My eyes widened when George described the intense moment that transpired as the leading female intern, Meredith Grey, played by Ellen Pompeo, switched hands with the distraught Hannah in order to prevent the bomb from exploding before Hannah tearfully bolted from the operating room. I was intrigued enough to watch part two, “As We Know It,” (Season 2, Episode 17), which aired the following week. By the time I saw the handsome bomb squad leader explode into a million tiny bits of pink mist, I was hooked, and I never looked back.
The dramatic storylines about medical interns whose fictional characters were roughly the same age as me drew me in along with the love triangles, as well as the eye candy provided by doctors “McDreamy” and “McSteamy” played by Patrick Dempsey and Eric Dane. I identified with Merideth’s complicated mother-daughter relationship, her dark and twisty persona, and her ride or die friendships with the class of interns who eventually became her village.
I loved the humor, snark, and cutthroat ambition of the interns, especially the overly confident and driven, Cristina Yang, played by Sandra Oh. Like so many fans, the endearing personalities of the kind and caring George O’Malley (T.R. Knight), and the smart, fierce, no-nonsense mamma bear, Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) were some of the reasons I continued to watch week after week, but it didn’t stop there.
Shonda Rhimes is the creative genius who engineered the drama I’d been waiting for my entire life as an African-American woman. From the very beginning, Grey’s Anatomy was packed with a diverse cast of characters working in high-level positions who looked like me. The show’s representation of queer and trans individuals and same-sex marriage, as well as strong, fierce, female leads set it apart from so many other primetime dramas of the past that were infused with tokenism. Instead, Grey’s Anatomy showed the world in all of its messy and glorious beauty. Despite its colloquial style of writing that taught us the filler words “seriously,” and slang expressions like “bad-ass” and “my person,” it also taught us medical terminology and procedures like bypass, Whipple, and left ventricular assist device (LVAD). I’m indebted to the writers for inspiring me to “dance it out” in my living room.
Although Grey’s Anatomy has never had the same level of absurd, outlandish, and over the top storylines found in daytime soap operas like cloning your dead spouse, or getting kidnapped and locked up in a cage by your ex-lover, it has had subtle elements due to its love triangles, steamy sex scenes, and a few visits from the dead. But it also brought me back to the aspects of the soap opera that I’ve always appreciated, addressing and disarming social stigmas like interracial marriage, poverty and homelessness, homosexuality, and AIDS.
Grey’s Anatomy’s dynamic storytelling has highlighted a range of important issues including military Veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mental health, immigration, gun violence, and sexual assault. Most recently it has tackled the failures and complexities of America’s broken healthcare system, as well as the warning signs of human sex trafficking. So much of what the show has achieved has seamlessly been told alongside human interest stories about the impact of Alzheimer’s disease, the place of religious faith in science and medicine, and successfully juggling life as a high-achieving working mother. Not to mention the well-researched medical cases, clinical trials, and surgeries that have fed my interest in medicine.
I won’t take credit for being the biggest fan, but I’m definitely up there. I love it so much that I used the show to teach medical terminology to a class of adult English Language Learners, adding to the international fan base in the process.
Seasons one through three laid a strong foundation for the future longstanding legacy of sixteen seasons that have made it the longest-running prime-time medical drama on television. To this day, I still consider those first few seasons the cream of the crop in the series because as a whole they were the most well-written and some of the most memorable. Grey’s Anatomy hasn’t always been perfect, and I suspect that the sudden departure of the fictional Dr. Preston Burke, played by Isaiah Washington, after he allegedly used of a homophobic slur on set impacted the future storyline.
It was never quite the same after he left, and the show seemed to teeter off course for a little while. However, there were impactful episodes throughout the series including the hospital shooting spree that occurs in Season 6 and the ballsy musical episode of Season 7 that showcased the talents of its cast and blew me away. It wasn’t until the end of Season 8 that the show was infused with new life due to a traumatic plane crash. As Season 9 dealt with the aftermath, it changed the show’s trajectory in a significant way.
I’ll admit that there were moments when I had my doubts about the direction of the drama. I was worried when Seattle Grace Hospital merged with Mercy West Medical Center (Season 6), and I was reluctant to like the second batch of surgical interns who appeared during Season 9. But the writers proved me wrong because these changes gave the viewers a new cast of amazing residents and interns including Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams), April Kepner (Sarah Drew), Stephanie Edwards (Jerrika Hinton), and Jo Wilson (Camilla Luddington). The character arcs have evolved tremendously over the years, and the impactful storylines have made me laugh and cry — sometimes both at the same time.
In November 2017, Glamour published the online article Shonda Rhimes and Ellen Pompeo Have a Pact About When They’ll End ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. This is what Shonda Rhimes had to say:
“Ellen and I have a pact that I’m going to do the show as long as she’s going to do the show,” Rhimes told E! News. “So the show will exist as long as both of us want to do it. If she wants to stop, we’re stopping. So I don’t know if we’ll see 600 [episodes], but I want to keep it feeling fresh. As long as there are fresh stories to tell and as long as we’re both excited about the stories being told, we’re in. So, we’ll see where that takes us.”
Fast forward to 2020 now that we’re in Season 16. Many people were outraged by the final chapter for Alex Karev due to the recent departure of Justin Chambers who played the character for 16 seasons. Although I’m not one of the angry fans who recently threw shade at original creative team member, Krista Vernoff (head writer and executive producer until the end of Season 7, returning in Season 14), I still felt betrayed because it didn’t fit the legacy of the character who had matured and changed over the years. I suppose that eliciting such a strong reaction is one of the beauties and challenges of writing for television.
Connie Liou shared the following quote from Justin Chambers in the article, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Krista Vernoff Addresses Alex Karev’s Last Episode:
“There’s no good time to say goodbye to a show and character that’s defined so much of my life for the past 15 years,” Chambers said, per Deadline.
Perhaps this rings true for the show itself. I feel like I’ve grown up with the characters as they’ve evolved and progressed in their lives and careers. However, the spark has faded for me. The storylines feel recycled, the love triangles are less steamy, and so many characters have either left or been killed off. I don’t sit on the edge of my seat like I used to, and I find myself doing other things while the show plays on the screen in the background.
Grey’s Anatomy has been viewed around the world by different generations for 15 years, and I have no doubt that it will endure for more years to come. However, certain things aren’t meant to last forever, except maybe in syndication. Although I will remain a loyal viewer until the bitter end, even though it’s no longer the show I once loved, its legacy will diminish if it stays on life support for the sake of the fans. It’s had a long life. It’s time to pull the plug and let go.