“I feel like one of those people who’s so miserable they can’t be around normal people.” Are these the words of sulky 90s dramedy heroine Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart) or newcomer and ratings-grabber Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) of Grey’s Anatomy? Well, this particular quote comes from Meredith, but if you’re on the fence, you had cause. Meredith Grey is the season’s Ally McBeal. And not just because both shows o.d. the viewer with soundtrack.
Allegedly, Meredith, like Ally, is a woman struggling to move ahead in her career and her love life at the same time. But in reality, like Ally McBeal,Grey’s Anatomy doesn’t quite pull off this double-whammy premise. Meredith spends almost all of her time on the love part of life and precious little on her career. She, like Ally before her, isn’t the everywoman trying to ‘have it all’; she’s a lovesick sad sack sitting on the sidelines pining away for an ex while everyone around her does the heavy, career-related lifting.
Remember Ally, the paradoxical modern woman: good at her job, stumbling personally? But how good was Ally really at her job, or rather, how good did creator David Kelley let her be at her job? As a lawyer, Ally mainly existed to sit second chair and smirk knowingly as John “The Biscuit” Cage pulled his stunts, zinger competitors, and displayed his legal genius.
“That John, he’s so unbeatable.” Professionally, Ally was a cheerleader, barely even a wing woman, as the Biscuit got to voice all Kelley’s
social commentaries and rule almost every courtroom scene. Sure, Ally had a few good trial moments, but usually the “success at the job” or even the “gives a damn about the job” piece of her life was non-existent. Ally McBeal wasn’t about a woman looking for love and career satisfaction; it was about a woman looking for love while she went to work everyday.
And now, Grey’s Anatomy. I haven’t seen every episode, but you’d think since I’ve seen a handful, I’d also have a handful of examples showing lead character Meredith Grey the surgical intern doing things appropriately surgical or intern-ish. She could be acting with ambition like Sandra Oh’s character, dealing with insecurities like that dorky guy, surprising herself with her own aptitude like Izzy, or even losing her nerve like Alex.
But no. Instead, Meredith spends ninety percent of her screen time whining about her social life and going through the same mind-numbingly lame motions of her lame romantic storyline (did I same lame out loud?).
Even in a recent train wreck episode where all hands were on deck because of the depth of the disaster, Meredith didn’t even get a case by default! She was too drunk. So what does she do? She whines more about her love life while everyone else and their grandfather is knee-deep in carnage. And in the midst of it, she questions if she’s the most self-absorbed person in the world. Well, yes, you are, Meredith, bu the bigger question is: why did you even bother going to medical school?
And the worst part is Meredith (so much like Ally) is her self-absorbed worst at the most inappropriate times – like when someone else is in real trouble. But on Grey’s Anatomy, unlike on Ally McBeal, the trouble isn’t legal or emotional, it’s life or death. This makes the me-me-me routine all the more ludicrous. Take the train wreck again. Two people are attached together by a metal spike and set for surgery only one will survive.
And our girl’s in the dang scrub room talking about her romantic troubles. Again! And she’s dragging Dr. Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) down with her! Yeah, Meredith had a couple seconds at the end of the episode where she threw around some gauze and went off about saving the doomed patient. But even then you couldn’t help noticing her last minute effort came after everyone else on the team had already acknowledged and agonized over the fact one patient had no chance. Maybe. Meredith, if you’d been paying attention to your job….
And this is why “Dr” Grey is the most boring and perhaps least likable character on Grey’s Anatomy. She’s one-note and almost always portrayed as the least competent, least impressive, least devoted of the interns. Inadvertently, I’m sure. Several are portrayed as more cutthroat, but hey, I’d rather have cutthroat working on me than someone who’s checking her voice mail during surgery to see if “a boy” called. “Um, yeah, thanks Dr. Grey, but I think I’ll put off that surgery til someone else is available…like the guy who just had brain operation or the one who just flunked his boards…”
Grey’s Anatomy reaches for an audience that doesn’t just want ER-style blood and guts, but more romance, sex, breakups and soap. And that’s fine. Obviously, the shoe’s doing just fine in the ratings with the current blend, regardless of this reviewers opinion. But isn’t more blending possible, blending that lets us see a woman learning, struggling, growing, sometimes winning sometimes failing, at her job while also worrying about getting back the love of her life? I’m not asking for a total makeover here, Meredith, just a little less time spent dwelling on McDreamy, and a little less time acting like McBeal.