What is it about Grey’s Anatomy that transformed it from a sleeper, mid-season replacement show into a primetime phenomenon? Of course some will point to the well-written scripts or the diverse age and ethnicity of the cast that draw in large audiences. Or maybe it’s as simple as McDreamy’s hair. While all of the above certainly apply, the show’s characters are what young people across the country can relate to because, like them, they too have problems—big ones.
When, writer Shonda Rhimes created the series she claims her goal was to craft characters that an audience would want to hang-out with week after week. With approximately 23.5 million viewers stopping by every Thursday at 9pm, Rhimes has not only achieved her goal, she’s made Grey’s Anatomy touching, poignant and hilarious.
Peace of the Past
Here’s a quick introduction into the world of Seattle Grace Hospital: Meredith Grey returns to her Seattle home where she is challenged to face ghosts from her past while struggling to discover who she is as an adult, woman, and surgeon. An only child with an estranged father, Meredith finds herself challenged to follow in the footsteps of a mother who neglected her as a child in order to pursue a career that made her a world renowned surgeon. Along with a cast of endearingly neurotic and hopelessly complicated interns and residents, Meredith fights to make peace with her past.
Season one opens with Meredith waking up naked with a man whose name she doesn’t remember. If the guilt and embarrassment of a one night stand isn’t bad enough, then the fact that the amazingly handsome man turns out to be her boss at the hospital is enough to send her in a downward spiral. Should she sacrifice her reputation as a surgeon to have a love affair? But what if it’s not just an affair, and it’s actually love? Should she sacrifice her chance of love, and potentially a happy future, to become a work obsessed surgeon like her mother? Like many of us, the characters on Grey’s Anatomy constantly struggle to survive days when they are their own biggest adversary.
The spiritual dilemmas facing young working adults abound at Seattle Grace. Christina Yang, top of her class from Stanford and a self-professed work-aholic, struggles to balance her professional ambition while caring for the people she loves. Izzie, who grew up in a trailer and modeled to pay for medical school, is now trying to prove herself as a professional without losing her open-loving nature. “McDreamy”, other wise known as Derrick Sheppard, has fallen in love with Meredith, but struggles to make right his already broken marriage, without hurting Meredith more than he has. While it may sound like a soap opera, there are no easy villains or heroes in Grey’s. But while the program doesn’t supply easy answers, in a hospital, there are bound to be casualties.
Grey’s Anatomy gives viewers an insight into the human side of playing God. In the struggle to make the right decisions—sometimes with people’s lives in their hands—the program’s characters constantly make mistakes. What happens when we don’t achieve expectations placed on us by ourselves and society? As healers, doctors are looked up to with an almost super-human reverence. What happens when these same physicians have to admit they were wrong? The fallibility of the doctors at Seattle Grace is somehow endearing.
To Fail and Forgive
The flip side to the staff’s struggles with fallibility is their grappling with forgiveness. Meredith can’t forgive her mother for choosing a career over a daughter, Derrick yearns to forgive his wife for cheating on him, Izzie is faced with forgiving herself for the greatest medical blunders of her life. How do we forgive the people who hurt us and how do we forgive ourselves for hurting ourselves? The lesson learned in the world of Grey’s Anatomy is that what doesn’t kill us teaches us how to better love each other.
The blurred professional and personal boundaries at Seattle Grace remind us that the choices we make affect everyone around us. Every episode of Grey’s Anatomy opens and closes with Meredith’s narrative voice taking the audience into her internal world. Throughout the weeks we chart a course through her psychological and spiritual anatomy. As a doctor, she often references how much easier it is to heal wounds that we can see, but warns that it’s the wounds we can’t see that do the most damage.