Why I’m still watching “Grey’s Anatomy”

All of my friends have heard the Grey’s spiel. Now it’s your turn.

Grey’s what? It’s still on the air?

Grey’s Anatomy is a super-soapy, hour-long drama on ABC. It’s about surgeons. It originally aired as a mid-season replacement for Boston Legal in March 2005, and it’s now in its ninth season. It’s won a mess of awards, though none of the really serious ones. (I don’t count a Best Supporting Actress for Katherine Heigl as serious. Leave me a note if you want to discuss this further.)

The cast includes Ellen Pompeo as the titular Meredith Grey, Sandra Oh (the best part of Sideways), Sara Ramirez (of Spamalot on Broadway), Jesse Williams (Cabin in the Woods — which, watch now), Patrick Dempsey (who, did you know, was in a spectacularly campy Molly Ringwald movie from 1993, Face the Music?), and Kevin McKidd.

And it’s the best show on TV?

No. It’s solid, certainly — between Rhimes’s brilliant casting and the consistently good writing, direction, and acting (again; Katie Heigl aside), Grey’s is a stellar example of an hour-long drama. There are tons of others, though, that are as good or better: Mad Men, Justified, Friday Night Lights, The Wire, and The West Wing come to mind.

So what’s the hook?

It comes down to the medium. Bear with me for a moment.

A movie has a few hours to introduce you to its characters; to get you caring about them; to build a story that pays off. I love movies; they can be transcendent and life-changing, but even the best writer is limited, in this way, by the format.

Taking re-watching into account, I figure I’ve spent maybe ten hours total watching each of my favorite movies (like Almost Famous, That Thing You Do!, The Wizard of Oz, and The Matrix).

Guys. I have spent two hundred hours with Grey’s Anatomy. That’s more hours, total, than I work in most months.


Yeah. And in two hundred hours over nine years, I’ve formed an emotional bond with these characters. So when something high-stakes and dramatic and life-changing happens to them, I have a huge amount of built-in context, understanding of their circumstances, and investment in their journey.


I just re-watched the Season 6 finale (the second half of a two-parter in which a man whose wife’s just died starts shooting everyone, and the cops lock down the hospital, and about a third of the cast gets killed off) and when I saw this moment — where Cristina realizes that there are no “real” surgeons around, and so even though she’s just a resident, she has to operate on her best friend’s husband, Derek, who’s just been shot in the chest, and April asks “who’s going to operate on Dr. Shepherd?”, and Cristina looks at Jackson, and steels herself, and says:

“I am.”

I still weep. Uncontrollably.

Not because it’s the most nuanced storytelling in the world, and not because I’m a huge Coldplay fan, and not even because the stakes are unbearably high, but because two hundred hours. I’ve spent years and years with these characters, watching them struggle, falter, learn, and grow. I don’t get that from almost any other type of entertainment.

And that’s why I’m still watching Grey’s Anatomy. Won’t you join me?