As the blog goes along this year, I’ll be doing episode-by-episode reviews of TV shows gone by, as a sort of DVD companion piece. Whether you’ve just started watching the show yourself, know it well and want to revisit it through someone else’s eyes, or simply want to know what all the fuss is about, these pieces should do the job.
One of the first shows on my list is an immensely popular show, designed mainly for the enjoyment of women, which I have never watched and wanted to see what all the fuss is about. I have a basic knowledge of key plot points thanks to media coverage, but apart from that. I’m going in blind. Guys, let’s see if there’s something here for us too. The show in question is…
My review of the first episode, after the jump....
EPISODE ONE: A HARD DAY’S NIGHT
DIRECTED BY PETER HORTON
WRITTEN BY SHONDA RHIMES
Shows that linger on my favourite television series of all time generally do so because they have a quality that prevents me from outgrowing them. Whether it be that the writing is timeless, or the characterization is so deep that each viewing brings something new, or because I find it so damned entertaining, all the really good shows stick around in my viewing habits.
But there is one show that I laughed at copiously when I watched it the first time around but I’ve never found any reason to revisit it in the last five years. That show is the Bill Lawrence cult hit, Scrubs. Starring Zach Braff and Sarah Chalke (maybe I will revisit it), with a blisteringly brilliant supporting performance from John C. McGinley, Scrubs was a show with heart, wit, charm and whimsy that on its day could be one of the best shows on television. I watched all eight series of this show in quick succession - but I’ve outgrown it since. I can’t quite put my finger on why, except that maybe the reality of the show was so heightened and bizarre (thanks to its narrator) that I stopped seeing the characters as real people and didn’t feel the need to hang out with them again. Like the group you used to joke around with in first year university (and who you probably quoted Scrubs with), it was a great show for that time in my life, but I’ve moved on.
So when embarking on the first episode of Grey’s Anatomy, it struck me just how similar the pilot episode was to the early seasons of Scrubs. Young medical interns go to hospital, develop early friendships and romances, go through long shifts, struggle with patients, kill someone, develop more romances, etc. and my first thought was – is this really Scrubs but without the jokes?
I’d heard Scrubs intimate that very thing in one of their episodes and the first episode of Grey’s did little to allay those fears. I am an absolute moron when it comes to picking plot developments or twists, but with no prior knowledge of any events in this episode whatsoever, I saw everything coming. As soon as George tells the family of his patient that he would be fine, I knew he was wrong, and I did my own impression of JD’s opera singer conscience – “Mistaaaaaaaaaaaaaake!!!!!!”. As soon as Meredith’s patient said her head felt heavy during a false alarm, I knew there’d be complications. The medical stories all felt incredibly rote, mainly because I’d seen them all before and I’ve only ever really watched two medical shows – House and Scrubs.
Now I figure the medical stories will improve as time goes along, so I’ll cut the show’s pilot some slack on that. Let’s look at the relationships and the performances, which are always what lifts a show like this one.
Having hated Patrick Dempsey in everything he’s ever done (particularly his charisma-vacuum character in Enchanted who is nowhere near good enough for Amy Adams) I saw what people like so much about him here. Funny and charming with enough of a presence to pull off being a confident doctor, he actually lifted the show when he was in it. That doesn’t forgive his other work, but finally I understand the appeal, which I could never fathom on a purely aesthetic level.
Ellen Pompeo as Meredith, on the other hand, who I can totally understand the appeal of on an aesthetic level, is not a particularly good actress, going by the pilot. Burdened with that unfortunate half-smirk and some even more unfortunate dialogue, she struggles to make Meredith someone we root for, and instead she seems like the person all the other characters see her to be – the prim, success-and-stress junkie we all new in high school. (I even knew one in primary school.) She struggles to show the level of emotion needed even in that final scene, which could have been heartbreaking in the hands of a better actress.
Speaking of that final moment, where it’s revealed that Meredith’s mother Ellis has Alzheimer’s disease, I don’t think the show earned it. The crucial trick with a successful twist or surprise ending is that the show has to have foreshadowed or hinted at it in some way during the lead-up. Otherwise the show is just revealing information we didn’t know to shock us into watching more episodes. Meredith’s mother is mentioned often but for all we know she wasn’t even in the same city, until we see that Meredith’s narration has been her talking to her mother the whole time. It was an out of the blue surprise that the show didn’t earn and as a result, lost a whole heap of emotional weight that it would have carried with better writing and episode structure. That could have been a heartbreaking discovery, but instead it was just an ‘oh’ moment.
Knowing what I do of the future of some of the characters and cast members, it’s very odd to see some of the relationships forming here. One of T. R. Knight’s first lines is “I’m not gay” and his bond with Isaiah Washington’s character loses some of its impact, inevitably, because of what we know about the actors. Knight is, apart from that, very good and already the heart of the show in the absence of Pompeo filling that role. Katherine Heigl shows signs of both the charms that would make her a star and the tics that would make her incredibly annoying, while Justin Chambers’ character is a villain so obvious and cartoonish that I really hope they go in a different direction with him, and everyone else fails to make much impact.
The usual caveat – this is a pilot episode, and pilots are rarely good. I’m giving this show the whole first season before I decide whether I stop recapping it or not. At this stage, the show only made me want to fast-forward once or twice, and I think there’s enough potential here so far to keep me going. I don’t really like surgery scenes (not for any nausea-related reason, they just bore me) so I think the show could do with less of that. I like T. R. Knight, I like Patrick Dempsey, I like the potential for drama and I quite like looking at Ellen Pompeo. I just wish she’d stop smirking!!!!
It’s not going to stop, is it?