Saturday, September 02, 2006

Grey's Anatomy (Season 1) (2006)

Grey's Anatomy Season 1If the sleeve notes on Grey's Anatomy - The Complete First Series are to be believed, The Daily Telegraph thinks this new hospital drama series is "better than ER ever was".

Errm, sorry to disagree, but NO!

ER was original and often unpredictable. Grey's Anatomy is neither of those things.

What the series DOES have going for it is this: a central core of strong characters, around which the all-too-familiar stories can be told; a gentle sense of humour that will appeal to fans of the superior The Gilmore Girls; and high production values that put most British drama series to shame.

Earlier this week Grey's Anatomy was nominated for an Emmy (or maybe even a couple - I'm too lazy and disinterested to go check!) In a year that didn't see the similarly medically-themed House nominated, this seems an odd lapse of judgement on the part of those responsible for deciding such things.

The series is full of the usual 'pretty' leads. The 'Grey' of the title is Meredith, who's single and slutty, and sleeps with her boss, the over-worked but somehow still buffed-up, Doctor Shepherd, the night before she starts work (before she realises he is her boss). Her fellow interns comprise stock characters guaranteed to be useful for future storylines. There's the hard-working ethnic girl who seems harsh on the surface but is kind-hearted underneath. There's the pretty but stupid jock character who everyone dislikes, but turns out to have come from an abusive home and been misunderstood. There's the stunningly attractive underwear model who we're expected to believe is actually 'trailer trash' forced to do those underwear 'glamour' ads to get money to pay her way through medical school. There's the 'nerd' guy with the heart of gold who hangs out with the women all the time and just wants the lead character to fall in love with him. There's.... well you get the picture! True-to-life this isn't, true-to-previous-cliches it is!

What disappoints most about each episode of this 'Ally McBeal meets ER' soap is that the writing never goes anywhere unexpected. It's as if the whole series was put together by a computer programme. Even the direction, whilst conforming to the functional, if predictable style of most 'prime time' US TV shows, comes across as tired and cliched. Just how many TV series do we need to see where each episode's act is book-ended by helicopter shots of the city at night? Why do shows HAVE to have a common theme for each episode so that eg where one character has a 'break up' with their partner, every other character has a break up of some sort (only to be miraculously reunited at the end) at the same time too? This is 'safe' programming of the worst not-true-to-life-at-all kind.

In the appallingly sparse 'Extras' the writers and producers talk about their big 'shock' reveal half way into the 14-episode 45-minute run, a reveal so 'surprising' I'd seen it coming in the very first episode. The season finale 'cliffhanger' is equally predictable and couldn't have been more clearly sign-posted if the opening credits each week had stated 'Someone has to choose between two people they're equally in love with - and can't'. This has all been done so many times before, and while the same old soap storylines are executed well here - does anybody REALLY need 14 more hours of what they've already seen countless times over? Grey's Anatomy is an easy watch, a way to unwind after a bad day at the office, and relatively enjoyable if you want to disengage the brain for 45 minutes at a time. But it's nothing more, and with a cast this strong, and production values this high, it all feels like a wasted opportunity.

Unlike House, which was massacred in its Region 2 DVD 4:3 'square' format release, Grey's Anatomy is at least presented in its originally transmitted widescreen format, with a clean anamorphic transfer. There's thankfully none of the murky, 'barely better than VHS' NTSC darkness and lack of contrast that other American shows like The West Wing have shown on DVD release. The price is reasonable too, although the packaging is poor - three DVD disks crammed onto a single spindle and of course not so much as an episode index. The menu's are particularly irritating with no more than two or three items ever appearing on a single menu screen so that you spend forever trying to navigate the few deleted scenes or episodes there are. A very short 'Making of' featurette is mainly an excuse to reshow clips from the series with just a few sound bites from the cast and crew, and an advertised 'Anatomy of a Pilot' appears to be just rough cut highlights of the aired episode spliced together without any introduction or commentary. Any modern 'prime time' TV series knows it's going to be eventually released on DVD and the makers should have been able to give us a lot more than they've given us here.

If you're an avid viewer of the likes of ER, Holby City or Casualty and missed this when it aired on cable, this is definitely worth checking out as a rental. For the rest of us, it's more a case of 'Nothing (new) to see here. Move along please'.


Jen said...

This review was really useful, as I've had several people suggest that I watch this show, and I've avoided it so far. I think I'll continue to do so!

I miss Casualty and Holby City. I know they're rather formulaic, and you can always spot the accident victim before it happens, but I liked the fact that they weren't overly interested in having pretty people on screen, and that the characters had a more developed backstory (especially those, like Charlie in Casualty, that have been there a long time). A certain mutual friend of ours, Ms Whym, said that she likes watching the dramas on BBC America because we Brits aren't afraid to put 'real people' on screen, and have storylines that actually require the viewer to pay attention :)

I can't believe House wasn't nominated for an Emmy this year. That whole event passes me by, as I don't care enough to pay attention, but I must say that an Emmy-less House seems like a serious oversight. I'm really looking forward to the new series, which is due to start any time now!

Ian said...

I love House, although I suspect it's only because Hugh Laurie is absolutely brilliant in it. I've only seen the first series, but have heard the second series finale is a real humdinger so the DVDs for that season can't arrive fast enough.

By the way Casualty is being released on DVD too. The first three series have just come out - probably worth buying just to you can laugh at Charlie's hair back in the Series 1 days.

Jen said...

Hugh Laurie is just incredible in House. I've always been a fan of his, and was thrilled to see him with a role he could get his teeth in to and that wasn't a foppish twit (although he plays a very good twit!). The Season 2 finale is quite a surprise, that's for sure. The first ep of S3 aired this week, and it made me twitch. Certain characters are more annoying than ever, others are annoying when before they weren't, and House isn't entirely acting like House. I'm hoping there are reasons for all this, and that it's soon resolved!

I might have to pop the Casualty DVDs on my Xmas list. Ah, the good old days before Megan went off to be in My Left Foot, and Duffy was still pleasantly plump and Charlie...well, I think it's only the hair that's changed!

Steve said...

There was a great British miniseries about ten minutes ago that reminds me a lot of Grey's Anatomy but is much more complex, a lot smarter. check it out