Buena Vista // 2007 // 740 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // September 18th, 2008
"Change; we don't like it, we fear it, but we can't stop it from coming. We either adapt to change or we get left behind. And it hurts to grow, anybody who tells you it doesn't is lying. But here's the truth: the more things change, the more they stay the same. And sometimes, oh, sometimes change is good. Oh, sometimes, change is...everything."
Grey's Anatomy: Season Four wants to go in new directions. The interns are now residents -- except for George (T.R. Knight), who failed his intern exam -- and now they are (supposedly) the teachers. Unfortunately, the bulk of the season is spent cleaning up the rubble of a number of ill-advised plot threads, preventing much in the way of exploration of their new status. While the season does manage to end on a positive note, overall the season descends a bit too far into soap opera depths for its own good.
While Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek Sheppard (Patrick Dempsey) continue to make a non-relationship relationship work, Cristina (Sandra Oh) struggles to put her professional life back together after Burke's abrupt departure, Izzie (Katherine Heigl) and George struggle to come to terms with their alcohol-fueled tryst, Callie (Sara Ramirez) struggles with both her duties as head resident and the disintegration of her marriage with George, and Alex (Justin Chambers) pursues a real relationship with former patient Eva (Elizabeth Reaser). Meanwhile, the Chief (James Pickens Jr.) works to reconcile with his wife, Bailey (Chandra Wilson) struggles with the responsibilities of being a wife, mother, and surgeon, and Sloan (Eric Dane)...well, Sloan just continues to be Sloan.
You get 15-17 episodes (depending on how you count two-parters) from the strike-shortened season.
One of the joys of watching Grey's Anatomy over the years has been the sharply drawn characters and the stellar acting. As we move into the fourth season, while the acting remains solid, the writing has begun to fall off, particularly with regard to character development. It's as though the writers are trying just a little too hard.
One element that works particularly well is Christina's season-long quest to get her surgical groove back. Between the departure of Burke and the appearance of Hahn, Christina suddenly has to prove herself again, and it is fun to watch, particularly since at times she basically starts channeling Izzie's tendency to suck up -- while at the same time Izzie herself starts to hear the siren song of cardio. Christina's ability is still there, but since her image of herself as a surgeon is inextricably entwined with her image of herself as Burke's partner, she can't access her surgical image until she deals with the loss of the other image. When Burke receives a prestigious award and fails to acknowledge her, Christina finally realizes -- possibly on a subconscious level -- that when Burke left, she repressed all that he had taught her along with her feelings. Once she admits that Burke screwed her over, she reclaims her abilities and starts kicking ass, even telling Hahn to get out of her way. Almost all of this conflict is unspoken -- but it plays out on Sandra Oh's expressive face wonderfully.
George O'Malley undergoes something of a character redemption at the end of the season, and it's about damned time. In the first two seasons, he was a gifted doctor, but without a lot of self-confidence. At the end of the third season, he has failed his intern exam -- meaning that he has to repeat the program -- and has cheated on his wife with Izzie. Halfway through Season Four, his relationship with Izzie mercifully ended, he's almost broken, trudging through his second internship like a lost soul. At the end, though, he has finally realized what Bailey tells him at the beginning of the season -- he is a good person, he is a good doctor. To an extent, his character redemption parallels that of Christina's, but Christina's was written much, much better.
Change has also brought some new faces to Seattle Grace. Erica Hahn (Brooke Smith, The Silence of the Lambs) takes over as the head of cardiothoracic surgery. While her ego is clearly no smaller than that of any other department head we've seen, her wry manner sets her apart, particularly as she repeatedly blows off man-whore Mark Sloan. I'm of two minds on the imminent relationship between Erica and Callie. On the one hand, the relationship developed in a realistic, natural manner; on the other hand, the way that Sloan egged on Callie makes one wonder if he's just trying to set himself up for a three-way (what am I saying? Of course he is. He's Mark Sloan, Man Whore, after all).
Another new arrival is Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh), Meredith's half-sister and a new intern. To an extent, Lexie is a plot device -- her presence is a constant reminder of the family life that Meredith never had -- and that device is pounded into our brains over the first few episodes, as though they writers weren't quite sure who the character was or what they wanted to do with her. By the end of the season, the character starts to settle in a bit. Her blossoming friendship with George is touching, because both are in situations in which they need someone with whom they do not share a load of emotional baggage. Here's hoping that the friendship stays just that, and that they do not go down that romantic road again.
Acting is solid across the board. With all of the drama and fireworks from the main cast, one can forget that as a hospital drama, the show features a lot of guest stars as people in dire straits. The show's guest stars turn in phenomenal work, from better-known actors such as Paul Dooley and Amy Madigan, to the unknowns such as Marshall Allman (the boy in concrete in "Freedom"). Their fears are palpable, as are their hopes and desires; they're not just the patient of the week, and the show is immeasurably better for their contributions.
Audio and video are both on a par with previous seasons. Video is clean and crisp, and is best appreciated in Joe's bar or outdoors. Sound is technically sound (that was inadvertent. Sorry), but there's not much to challenge the 5.1 sound field. We get a lot of extras, but not all of them are particularly compelling. The highlight is probably "Good Medicine: Favorite Scenes," in which different actors discuss, uh, favorite scenes. "New Docs on the Block" addresses the casting and the characters of the three newbies -- Lexie Grey, Erica Hahn, and Rose, and "On Set with Patrick and Eric" lets us discover that Patrick Dempsey and Eric Danes tend to monopolize the hair care products on set. Several episodes also have commentary tracks; they generally include an actor and a writer, which results in a good mix of information.
First of all, for a teaching hospital, we saw damned little teaching going on. Part of that was intentional, but still, it was a big gap, particularly since we saw everyone get a set of interns in the season premiere. You'd think Bailey would have called them on it by now. After an entire year, we know a fair amount about Lexie, but we do not know what kind of doctor she is.
The writers might have more time for teaching if they would dial back the soap opera dramatics. Let's look at Meredith. In Season One, Meredith was struggling to come to terms with her problematic relationship with her mother, while at the same time caring for her mother suffering from Alzheimer's. That's a lot of baggage right there, easily establishing that Meredith has intimacy issues (that, and the fact that she, in her own words, "screws boys like a whore on tequila.") In Season Two, her mother's situation becomes common knowledge, and she faces her father, who has moved on and started a new family. That's a natural progression, and further develops Mere's trust and intimacy issues. But it doesn't end there. In Season Three, Meredith realizes that her mom had an affair with the Chief, and that's what sent her dad packing, Meredith almost dies, her mother does die, Meredith tries to bond with her dad and her stepmom, and then her stepmom dies and her dad blames her. We're moving into Days of Our Lives territory now, but no, we're still not done. Now her stepsister turns up as a new intern. Meredith's intimacy and trust issues resurface, she and Derek break up again, and she finally decides to go to therapy. But do we send her attempting to come to terms with any of the stuff we already know? Of course not -- creator Shonda Rhimes has to throw yet more napalm on the fire, and so we discover that: 1. Meredith's mother attempted suicide by cutting her wrists with a scalpel, and 2. She. Made. Meredith. Watch.
Look, we get it -- Meredith is screwed up. We got that three seasons ago. At this point, things are veering perilously close to self-parody; next season, Meredith just might discover that her mother was Joseph Mengele's love child.
Honest character development too often gets sacrificed to sensational plot devices, none more sad -- and unnecessary -- than the romantic relationship between George and Izzie and the subsequent breakup of George and Callie. In the first couple of seasons, George and Izzie had one of the strongest "best friend" vibes on television. They were perfect for each other as friends. Moreover, George and Callie made a good couple. How much more rewarding would it have been for the triangle to resolve itself happily? The end result was a series of exceedingly painful scenes as the various parties are forced to face unwelcome truths.
In discussing the new faces earlier, I failed to mention Lauren Stamile, who plays Nurse Rose. There's a reason for that, and it has nothing to do with her performance, which has been uniformly solid. The problem is that the character itself his but one function in the show -- the character could just as well have been named Little Miss Blocking Agent -- her job is to stand between Meredith and Derek. She will continue in that role this fall, though during the off-season her function has, how shall I say...gestated. And then there's Alex Karev. The writers need to figure out what they want to do with him, because right now, he's running in place with somewhat repetitive seasonal arcs: Alex is a total shit for most of the season, but then we get a glimpse at the tortured soul underneath. When finally asked to deliver the goods in the last half of the season, Justin Chambers delivers the goods, but when are we going to see anything different from him?
Grey's Anatomy: Season Four doesn't quite scale the heights of previous seasons, but there's still a lot to appreciate here. The comments in the extras note that in the imminent Season Five, the main characters will be forced to make critical decisions about their futures -- what specialty they will pursue, where to pursue it. In that light, Season Four works for the most part. For all the miscues -- and there are many -- there is a definite sense of characters positioning themselves to strike out on their own.
The court finds the defendant not guilty, but advises the writers that just because something sounds like a good idea (*cough*Gizzie*cough*) doesn't mean that it is a good idea.
Review content copyright © 2008 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Buena Vista
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 740 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Extended Episodes
* Audio Commentaries
* New Docs on the Block
* On Set with Patrick and Eric
* Good Medicine: Favorite Scenes
* Dissecting Grey's Anatomy: Unaired Scenes
* In Stitches: Outtakes
* Official Site
* Grey Matters: GA Writers' Blog