At least a dozen times in tenth grade US History, I presented my Friday Current Events report on what had happened on the previous night’s Grey’s Anatomy. Once on a first date in a place that smelled like anthropomorphized grass, I said that Shonda Rhimes is my favorite writer, and then that dude and I went on to date one another miserably for several more months, based almost entirely, I am very certain, around the fact that he thought both [a] that this was a fantastically charming thing to say and that I was going to proceed through the rest of my days filling his world with such fantastically charming asides while also not doing the things I would in reality proceed to do, like throwing his keys in a bonfire on Halloween because he called me a bitch and being a real live human being with skin and opinions and [b] that I was joking. My mother hated and feared the way I, her firstborn child, her strong and bright daughter, known, she had once believed, to be possessed of all her own brave and beautiful thoughts and feelings, so immediately identified with and idolized self-obsessed WASPy waif Meredith Grey with her whining, and her sad tequila drinking, and her horrible rasping voiceovers, and, really, who could blame her.
Grey’s Anatomy is important, even if now, ten whole big fat terrifying years later, in a new decade and newish, new-seeming, as new-as-can-be lives, we are like, wow, how can this show possibly still be on television? How could a mid-season replacement about the personal lives of surgeons possibly have anything left to say eleven seasons later, and why would we want to listen? (To be perfectly clear, I am not of that mind. I love Grey’s Anatomy. If it were up to me, there would be a channel on TV that just aired episodes of Grey’s Anatomy constantly all day everyday, and I would quit my job, and I would buy a lot of Diet Coke, and I would never get off the couch again, and I would hate myself, and I would die in front of that channel, and it would feel right. I hope Grey’s Anatomy continues forever. I hope I’m seventy years old yelling at my grandchildren to shut the eff up and go play with your hovercrafts because there’s a goddamn lot of sexual tension happening across the top of this perforated bowel and you are not about to ruin it for me. Thank God It’s Thursday!!! <3 <3 <3) Grey’s Anatomy is important because it gave us Shonda Rhimes. She wrote Grey’s Anatomy and ABC put it on after their prize pony Desperate Housewives because they’d figured out that middle-aged women who watch TV while they’re winding down from the weekend on Sunday night were pretty horny–I mean, in an emotionally complex and compelling way, right, human interest, um, scrubs. drinking. hospital prom.– and it was a hit, and so we had Shonda Rhimes. And we had Olivia Pope. And we had Annalise Keating. And we had the most consistently diverse casts on television, the meatiest roles for women, the most fully realized women characters. And, a remarkable feat, somehow, even in 2015, “women” here does not mean only skinny straight white ones. Shonda Rhimes arrived and we had Shondaland: an empire of exciting television that respects its audience by not taking itself too seriously, by remembering this is TV after all and the world is bleak enough, that you can tell important stories without being a boring crotchety dick who everybody can tell wishes that they’d made it as a playwright. Shondaland succeeds and inspires by knowing the importance of being smart and silly in the right measure. Also with a lot of kissing. When Grey’s happened Rhimes had already written the critically-maligned but indubitably important Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads, as well as the second Princess Diaries film, and it warms my heart like nothing else to know that this is the professional pedigree of a woman who has twice been named to Time Magazine’s list of the 100 Most Influential People. Shonda Rhimes is the improbable and indefatigable victor of 21st century network television, which is why one might think twice before they seek to mock her tendency to drop a catastrophic disaster onto her made-up hospital and its doctors with improbable reliability right around sweeps. I mean, disasters happen! Personally, I have a major disaster at least three times a week. For example, this morning the only K-cups left for the Keurig coffeemaker were some kind of heinous caramel swirl flavor, as if the universe is operating under the misapprehension that I’m a lilac-haired fairy recently from Candyland with nothing to do but dance around collecting cavities all day. It was horrible. I can barely believe I’m staggering on. Shonda gets it.
Anyway, in the very first big disaster episode, Meredith has her hand on a bomb inside of a man’s chest cavity on a day when she woke up despondent over her breakup with a married neurosurgeon with stupid hair and declared that she could not go to work because she thought she might die today. We are in the back half of the second season of sexy new tv baby Grey’s Anatomy. It’s winter. The first half of this two parter aired in the prestige spot immediately after the Super Bowl. I was nauseous from nachos the whole time, I remember. The first episode is pretty good. Christina Ricci plays the scared young EMT Hannah who comes into the hospital with her arm inserted into a wound in a man’s abdomen made by a homemade WWII era explosive device. She is one of the very first big name guest stars in what will be a very long, and still continuing, line of big name guest stars, and in the role she appears appropriately small and fragile, I imagine because that’s what she is. Many millions of people saw it because after football we are tired and can’t change the channel. Science has proven this and it cost millions of dollars. A lot of dads and boyfriends who had never spent their Sunday nights at Seattle Grace Hospital before were yelling, “what’s happening? should they be having this drawn out, casual conversation about their personal lives while somebody’s brain is literally just like chilling in the open?” from their body-shaped caverns in the couch, and we, the Shondaland loyal, had to throw gnawed on chicken bones or sticky M&Ms across the room at them without moving our eyes from the screen, like, “SHHHHHHH. YOU’RE SO STUPID. ALEX AND IZZIE ARE GONNA DO. IT.”
There is a bomb in a body in an operating room and our protagonist has her hand wrapped around it. Patrick Dempsey is McDreamy-ing just next door, he and his misty eyes busy cutting up the brain of the injured husband of Dr. Miranda Bailey, arguably the show’s most beloved figure, definitely the hospital’s. Bailey is a couple floors away in labor with their first child. McDreamy’s wife Addison, kind and glamorous redhead who saves babies for a living and is completely impossible to hate even though she first appears on the show wearing a fur coat and crushing Meredith’s little brat heart, and mine along with it, is assisting the delivery. Everybody is very stressed. There is the wife of the dude with the bomb in his body. She screams a lot. Dr. Preston Burke is going to be written off the show one day because of behind the scenes conflict but today he is there being super zen and wearing his watercolored surgical cap. Meredith had to put her hand on the bomb to replace Christina Ricci’s skittish EMT because she is the main character and this is not ours or Shonda’s first day, but it is, really, particularly, a very Meredith thing to do. Even in 2005, there is no real fear that the woman whose last name is featured in this very popular show’s title is about to get blown to smithereens, so the real concern becomes, like, “jesus, girl, you have gotta get yourself sorted already.” The fact is, life goes on even if your parents were super shitty and a crooked nosed New Yorker with a weird boner for ferry boats–who, yes, okay, has a certain something– chose his fabulous wife over you in an attempt to be noble. You just do get the feeling sometimes Meredith doesn’t even know how glossy and manageable her hair is, you know? Just out here grabbing bombs. The second that Kyle Chandler appears on the scene as the head of the bomb squad we know exactly how things are going to end for him, but there’s a lot of time to go, and it’s still very fun.
Shonda Rhimes obviously had a very clear musical concept for this show from the outset, the high number of Tegan and Sara songs that have scored scenes over the years gives you a fair idea of what that concept sounds like. Once, Grey’s featured a little song called “White Horse” by a certain coltish young would-be superstar with a mop of wild blonde hair who would go on to name her pet cat after the show’s lead character, and she was so excited she posted a video of her reaction on MySpace, which you can see here, though somebody’s messed with the audio as the internet is wont. The first song that ever played on the show is Rilo Kiley’s “Portions For Foxes” which was pretty cool for 2005. And for the show’s biggest moment up until that point, the climax of it’s first Big Plot, the thrilling conclusion that had sizable shreds of the previous week’s Super Bowl audience tuning in, the chosen song was momentary buzz tune “Breathe (2 AM)” by Anna Nalick. This song checks all the requisite boxes for a Grey’s Anatomy track, which is not hard, because, generally speaking, “all the boxes,” means a melancholy white girl warbling lightly. I have a soft spot for songs like “Breathe (2 AM)” that are everywhere, from nowhere, and then disappear, no followup act, because I love nothing, really, I think, nothing, more than a good toss-away pop moment. Remember that? I mean, kinda. Reality shows that last half a season and trucker hats for me, though others have chosen to revisit that one repeatedly. There was a second here on this spinning disaster of hope and water where everybody and their grandma was singing along to Anna Nalick’s song three times a day everyday while they were stuck behind some idiot who doesn’t know about right on red. And, then it was over. Just breathe
The song playing is almost all this happening when the song is playing. There is a bomb but you are very much inside of the song that is playing. So, also there’s a bomb. Winter just wa-a-asn’t my-y-y seaaasooon. Meredith removes the device from the man’s body in tiny movements. The bomb squad guy takes it from her, thanks her, move slowly away. The song says breathe but they’re not. “So cradle your head in your hands and breathe just breathe” is what she says over and over, and it’s so strange. You forget. Even now, I found myself washed away. I got so distracted just like I was supposed do. I know that a bomb on television, talked about for two hours, needs to explode, but you lost that for a second or two in the music and the bright light of the hallway when the door opens and the relief on Ellen Pompeo’s tired face. But then it goes. The deafening noise we took a break from anticipating, and then that awful chasing quiet, blow Anna Nalick’s gentle crooning away mid-phrase. Coach Taylor is pink mist right before Meredith’s eyes, and Cristina and Izzie will shower her off in an oddly affecting callback to poor trodden upon George’s sexy dream sequence that opened the two-parter. The guy with the bomb in his chest lives. Bailey’s husband will be okay, too. They have their baby. Nobody’s dead who we’d known for longer than an hour because this is only the show’s second season and there are simply rules about that sort of thing. McDreamy’s gonna come by the house in the dark to say he’s glad she didn’t die. I like to hear “Breathe (2 AM)” on the radio, like on the highway, when you’re flipping to avoid the static and say inside the safer sounds. It is of a moment. It was on my first iPod, which was a long white Shuffle with no screen. It’s the kind of song that sometimes got selected from YouTube on a laptop on a twin bed under an Eiffel tower poster, somewhere, so many somewheres, like, oh, this, like, oh, laugh and get all weird, like, wow, we used to be thirteen. I like to catch at least two thirds of it on a road where you can speed a little, and then I can’t do anything but remember the way this soft song gets smacked away to allow for the stunning arrival of just what we’d been waiting for, this perfect graceful execution of exact rule-following, perfect order, that feels new and thrilling somehow, in all its rightness, like a ballet you’d say awake through, and how a hundred thousand teary elevator rides on TV later, I do really sort of think that’s art.