Buena Vista // 2005 // 387 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Pope (Retired) // March 15th, 2006
"I can't think of a single reason why I should be a surgeon, but I can think of a thousand reasons why I should quit. They make it hard on purpose...there are lives in our hands. There comes a moment when it's more than just a game, and you either take that step forward or turn around and walk away. I could quit, but here's the thing: I love the playing field."
A word-of-mouth hit when it appeared as a midseason replacement show in 2005, ABC's Grey's Anatomy has blossomed into a national phenomenon thanks to a cast of sharply drawn characters that elevates the show above its standard medical drama material.
Five young doctors embark on their first year as surgical interns at Seattle Grace Hospital. Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) is the daughter of a well-known, highly regarded surgeon. Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) is a Stanford graduate with a mordant sense of humor and little time for her patients' gratitude. Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) paid her way through medical school by posing in lingerie ads. George O'Malley (T.R. Knight) wants to save patients, but he is unsure of his skills, unlike arrogant cad Alex Karev (Justin Chambers), who is all too sure of his abilities. Monitoring the interns' progress is Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), Dr. Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington), and hotshot neurosurgeon Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey).
* "A Hard Day's Night": Meredith's medical career gets off to a wobbly start when she reports for her first day as an intern only to discover that her new boss was last night's one-night stand.
* "The First Cut is the Deepest": The interns must treat a comatose rape victim and her attacker, and Meredith risks losing her job when she steps out of bounds to save a newborn baby's life.
* "Winning a Battle, Losing the War": On the day of an annual, take-no-prisoners bicycle race, the interns face an assortment of severe accidents. Meanwhile, another competition heats up when Burke learns that Derek is in the running for new chief of staff.
* "No Man's Land": A former nurse returns to Seattle Grace to die, and Meredith helps a construction worker make a critical decision about his future after he somehow survives an accident involving a nail gun. An incensed Izzie deals with hospital gossip after a patient recognizes her from sexy magazine ads.
* "Shake Your Groove Thing": While Izzie stresses over a cocktail party that is on the verge of becoming a raucous blowout, Meredith once again finds her career in jeopardy when she accidentally damages a patient's heart during surgery. When another patient complains about having pressure in her chest, Bailey and Cristina make a startling discovery that links back to Burke.
* "If Tomorrow Never Comes": Callous Alex learns a lesson in compassion when he gains and then loses the trust of an obese patient with an extremely large tumor. When Bailey suspects Derek is giving Meredith preferential treatment over the other interns, she steps in to balance the scales.
* "The Self-Destruct Button": Izzie and George turn on Meredith when they learn about her relationship with Derek. Meanwhile, George accuses an anesthesiologist of drinking on the job, Alex treats a former classmate who is into self-mutilation, Izzie acts as mediator for a quarrelling couple as she tries to recover their lost car keys, and Cristina learns that her flu-like symptoms may not be the flu after all.
* "Save Me": Derek avoids sharing aspects of his personal life with Meredith, Alex treats a Jewish girl whose religious beliefs interfere with her surgery, and Cristina doesn't understand a cancer patient's refusal to terminate a pregnancy. Meanwhile, the entire staff is spooked by a patient who claims to be psychic, and provides evidence backing his claim.
* "Who's Zoomin' Who?": As the hospital deals with an outbreak of syphilis among the staff, Izzie and Cristina perform an autopsy against the wishes of the deceased patient's wife and daughter, and Burke makes a peculiar discovery while treating a friend. Meanwhile, Meredith's and Derek's first date ends in a shocking surprise.
"You can waste your lives drawing lines, or you can live your life crossing them. But there are some lines that are way too dangerous to cross."
This is one of the pearls of wisdom that Dr. Meredith Grey lobs at viewers during the first season of ABC's breakout hit, and brace yourself, because there's a hundred more where that came from. The ham-fisted narration that bookends each and every show has all the insight of a bumper sticker, but occasionally a kernel of truth sneaks in.
Case in point: Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes has obviously poured her heart and talent into this handsomely produced, carefully conceived drama, but its first time at bat is...well, safe. It neither draws nor crosses a line. If anything, it bends over backward toeing it.
To begin with, it's another hour-long medical drama, which is the most conspicuous clue that it's aiming no higher than it has to. It falls into many of the same traps as those that came before it (not to pick on you, ER, but you're the worst offender). There's the endless onslaught of bizarre medical cases (here, it could be a grotesquely huge tumor or a set of swallowed car keys), the surgeons with God complexes, and interns whose personal lives have enough turmoil to send the entire staff of General Hospital into cardiac arrest. The show follows an established formula to the letter, and why? Because it's safe and it sells. Like the good Dr. Grey said: Some lines are too dangerous to cross.
But for a show that follows the straight and narrow, Grey's Anatomy is enormously entertaining, benefiting immeasurably from liberal doses of humor and spot-on casting choices. How can I possibly deny the appeal of a show that has become a national phenomenon in just over a year, sparking heated, Monday-morning water cooler discussions among its legions of (mostly) female fans? Is this a soap opera? Absolutely. Am I hooked? You bet your sweet patella I am.
Though Rhimes seldom strays from formula, she mines a lot of humor and compassion from her characters. They make mistakes as they learn their place in the surgical wing's pecking order, and they struggle to retain their humanity while moving through an assembly line of patients. What Rhimes lacks in originality, she makes up for in her attention to detail. Even the patients are fleshed out with lives and stories. These are human beings, after all, and Rhimes gives us just enough information about them to make us care whether they live or die (you'll remember the aforementioned tumor patient long after the episode ends, and not because of her malady). And be on the lookout for Keith David (Requiem for a Dream) and Anna Maria Horsford (television's Amen) doing their usual fine work as Seattle Grace patients.
If fans have one qualm with the show, it's with Pompeo's Meredith Grey. I don't understand why. She's the least colorful character, but she's no less textured, and I'd argue that she's the most complex. Pompeo plays her as a woman who is intelligent and confident as long as it's a stranger's life that is in her hands. It's only when she has to deal with her Alzheimer's-stricken mother that she threatens to shatter into a million pieces. But Pompeo's surefooted performance -- coupled with quiet, heartbreaking moments from the always wonderful Kate Burton, playing a woman drifting slowly away from the great surgeon she once was -- grounds the show and gives it emotional weight.
The rest of the ensemble sparkles as well, with Oh and Wilson being the standouts. As Cristina, the aggressive Stanford graduate with a brilliant mind but a lousy bedside manner (one particularly funny running joke had her bristling whenever she was hugged by an over-appreciative patient), Oh gets the best lines ("Geriatrics is for freaks who live with their mother and never have sex") and delivers them with hilarious piss and vinegar.
Wilson, meanwhile, plays Dr. Bailey as a relentless drill sergeant who has no problems assigning rectal exams to her interns before facing down her superiors, earning herself the nickname "the Nazi." As she tells her eight charges, "No one holds a scalpel until I'm so happy I'm Mary Freaking Poppins." Wilson, who had a memorable turn in John Sayles' Lone Star, commands every scene she's in. She's the courageous and unexpectedly moral center of the show (how she handles a delicate situation with Burke in "Shake Your Groove Thing" is one of the season's high points).
As gorgeous Izzie, Heigl pulls off the tricky role of the gifted doctor
whose skills are constantly underestimated because of her looks. By contrast,
George's skills are underestimated mostly by himself, a trait humorously and
achingly captured by Knight.
If there's one other area where I part ways with the show's fans, it's with the character of Dr. Derek Shepherd (dubbed "Dr. McDreamy" in a line that only Oh could pull off). Dempsey is smooth and winning as the recently transplanted neurosurgeon from New York and new contender for hospital chief of staff. It may be the role that finally put Dempsey's name on the map, but Shepherd doesn't have any distinguishing characteristics other than his poor judgment. Beginning with the pilot episode's opening scene, which paves the way for the show's most unlikely storyline, he serves as a convenient plot device with great hair. At least the season wraps up with a nifty glitch that I'm told pays off in Season Two.
You can bet I'll be watching.
Grey's Anatomy: Season One arrives on DVD courtesy of Buena Vista, and fans should be pleased with the package. Each episode on this two-disc set is presented in its original widescreen format (1.78:1 anamorphic), and the clarity is almost flawless, with bright colors and only occasional grain. The Dolby 5.1 Surround is fine, but unexceptional. The track makes little use of surround speakers, but, on the other hand, it's hardly necessary. Dialogue is clear, and the soundtrack well preserved (which is a relief for a show that features such an impressive lineup of songs). English subtitles are provided.
The pilot episode includes two audio commentaries, and they're a mixed bag. The first, featuring Rhimes and director Peter Horton, is well worth listening to. Rhimes' passion for her show is evident throughout, and she goes into great detail about how she conceived the show. Horton talks about the directorial choices he made to help the pilot stand out. Conversation never lags, and the speakers are always engaging.
Actors Heigl, Knight, and Oh (who arrives midway through) chime in on the second commentary, and you'll likely stop listening after ten minutes. Heigl and Knight have nothing substantial to say, so they spend much of their time reminding us how they've never recorded a commentary before (believe me, it shows). Things pick up when Oh arrives, but it's too little too late. Skip it.
Disc Two contains a short featurette titled "Under the Knife: Behind the Scenes of Grey's Anatomy." At less than 12 minutes, it's far too short to be informative, but we do get to meet the show's medical advisor, Linda Klein, who is on hand to ensure that the medical aspects of the show are accurate and authentic.
Also included are two sets of deleted scenes, "Anatomy of a Pilot" and "Dissecting Grey's Anatomy." "Anatomy," which comes with an optional commentary track by Rhimes and Horton, suffers from a misleading title, but the scenes here are worth watching, unlike the five scenes from "Dissecting," which were understandably cut.
Finally, the package includes an alternate title track and, the most intriguing extra, an "avant-garde trailer" for the series. Shot in grainy black and white with French subtitles, this "trailer" tells you absolutely nothing about the series, but rather is a hilariously stylish riff on avant-garde cinema that was made for no apparent reason other than a good chuckle.
Fully realized characters and a crackerjack ensemble cast make Grey's Anatomy worth watching. This show is instantly addictive, and Buena Vista's Season One DVD set fits the bill.
All charges of medical malpractice are hereby dismissed.
Review content copyright © 2006 Bryan Pope; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 387 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Pilot episode commentary featuring creator Shonda Rhimes and director Peter Horton
* Pilot episode commentary featuring actors Sandra Oh, Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight
* "Behind the Scenes of Grey's Anatomy" featurette
* "Anatomy of a Pilot" (unaired scenes)
* "Dissecting Grey's Anatomy" (unaired scenes)
* Avant-garde trailer
* Official site