Season Premiere: Grey’s Anatomy – “Dream a Little Dream of Me”

“Dream a Little Dream of Me”

September 25th, 2008

I implore you, faithful readers: if you can find a single person who cares more about Meredith and Derek than they do about the newly arrived Kevin McKidd, or the three tragic couplings who populated this week’s episode, I commend your sleuthing skills.

I’m not exactly what one would call a Grey’s Anatomy superfan by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s one of those shows I keep watching if only to see what Shonda Rhimes does to step it up from her past mistakes. She is a good showrunner, it seems, but one who has on too many occasions as of late hit on the wrong notes for her main characters. Whether it was stretch out Meredith and Derek for too long, the complete and utter mess that was George and Izzie, or even the continued fall-out from Isaiah Washington’s departure, a show that was once a dramatic heavyweight needed three dying men, three adulterous, emotionally distraught, or brain damaged wives, and a suave new field surgeon love interest for Christina in order to make this season premiere feel anything like a premiere.

That she succeeded is in fact perhaps the most frustrating thing of all: it shows that she can write, just apparently not for the people we need to deal with every week.

With the considerable talent of Kathy Baker and Bernadette Peters anchoring the case, there was indeed something very emotionally powerful about the story of three husbands and three wives whose icy trip to the fancy gala was interrupted by their respective traumas. There’s a lot of death in this episode, if we’re counting two people as death – there’s a lot of the episode that deals with “stark reality” and our need to be aware that not everything is going to end up like the fairy tale that we envision. It’s not a new lesson for the show, but when it ends with Izzie and Denny’s dream reunion in the face of Alex shuffling off with some hussy, it is something that the show sort of needs.

Izzie needed it, mainly: she gets to carry the episodes most tragic elements, as Alan Sepinwall runs down over at What’s Alan Watching:

But every minute of [the season’s contrived main storylines – ed.] was worth it for the moment when Izzie (and you know how much I hate Izzie) started counting to 30 after Mariette Hartley woke up from surgery, then realized that this woman would spend the rest of her life having to be told, over and over and over, that her husband was dead…

There’s something about that final moment that isn’t tinged with that usual sense that this loss has made people stronger: in fact, even after Izzie decides to change the bad news to good news, it’s still tragic because now it’s just a perpetuated lie. When we leave the episode, the images we leave with are of two couples coming to terms with their new realities (either a bankrupt and cheating husband or reconnecting with your husband after having been responsible for said cheating) all while their friends are either dead or stuck in this terrible endless loop.

And if we don’t leave with that, we leave with Kevin McKidd’s entrance (and a good one, at that) as a brawny army surgeon who shows up to assist in the procedures while making googly eyes with Christina. The show does go too far at making him out to be hardcore, but McKidd is game, and by the time he’s staring into Christina’s eyes while pulling out the icicle that so conveniently fell into her abdomen at the midway point in the premiere you want him to stick around. Rumour has it that the crew was so happy with the chemistry between him and the cast that they’re doing their darndest to get him to stick around, and this is a good thing: his disruptive influence made Callie test out new waters, made the Chief start to put together that perhaps they need to be a bit more aggressive, and also got Christina to break out of her post-Burke funk.

The other major thread is that clear meta-commentary about the hospital falling in the rankings of teaching hospitals – of course, the show is really talking about how they have fallen from the top of the ratings heap to, well, below NCIS. It actually provided some of the episode’s best moments, Hahn quizzing everyone on their teaching methods after feeling self-conscious after being called out for not teaching Christina well enough last season. Just as she was trying too hard, though, to prove that she was trying, the show felt like it was trying just all in the wrong places. You won’t have strong guest stars every week: your cast needs to be able to carry the weight…or, more accurately, they need to be given the right weight to carry.

For example, I like where we’re taking Lexie, primarily because I find Chyler Leigh to be the most engaging person left on this show. She’s just got this innocence about her, so her adoration of George doesn’t seem too reductionist to her character depth considering how they were leaning towards this at the end of last season. And I found, at the very least, that Izzie’s idealistic image of Alex this week did serve to kind of give her that glimmer of hope before crushing it again, nicely tying into the episode’s theme. Plus, Christina continues to stand out from the rest of the cast quite easily.

But everything else just isn’t all that interesting, realistic or likeable. Sloane’s nothing but a joke, Hahn and Callie’s relationship is a contrived farce, and the entire Derek and Rose situation went from awkward to downright ridiculous this week with her fake pregnancy joke. The thing is, all three of these have some redeeming qualities: Hahn and Callie’s revelation at episode’s end was the culmination of a very subtle build all episode (While the “life lessons for doctors via patient care” lines were clear for most characters, Callie’s was a slow reveal), Sloane is actually quite good at being comic relief, and Rose bowing out in the way she did was classy if not quite as classy as this perfectly innocent character deserved for being caught in the mess that is Derek and Meredith.

And that mess is our problem: she’s a neurotic mess, he’s bland and uninteresting, and the combination of the two of them just isn’t making for entertaining television. I feel like we don’t need their drama, anymore: I don’t care if they move in together, and I (like Christina) would pay Shonda Rhimes to stop talking about them. Send them off on a shotgun wedding, and then a three-year honeymoon, and see how the people who get nominated for Emmys and get commended for strong supporting work step up to the plate and give this show some of its verve back.

In the meantime, you have a show that pulled out all of the stops to feel eventful: something tells me this won’t hold week by week.

Cultural Observations

  • I was watching this with a group of people much closer to the Grey’s Superfan level, and all of them seemed really underwhelmed by it – I don’t know if it was that all of the “shocking” things kept getting pulled away like the moles in Whack-A-Mole, but it just didn’t grab them in any kind of way. It makes me wonder if the premiere was designed too much to appeal to people with more of a critical eye, and maybe turned off some hardcore fans?
  • It’s really weird seeing a drama series return from the summer and be in the middle of winter – the show’s timeline has always been so screwy, and that was especially clear in this episode (not that it’s not allowed to be screwy, but I’m not exactly living in constant fear of falling icicles at the moment is all).

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