Grey's Anatomy: Season One
There is little doubt that one of the most popular genres for hour long television dramas is the medical series. From the golden age of Ben Casey and Doctor Kildare through St. Elsewhere and E.R. audiences have tuned in weekly to watch the men and women dedicated to saving lives. The latest entrant into this stellar group of television series is the ABC network’s Grey’s Anatomy. Some may think that with all the quality series that have come before a new twist would be nearly impossible to achieve, thankfully this is incorrect. Grey’s Anatomy is brilliantly written, extremely well acted and directed to near perfection. Seattle Grace Hospital is considered to have one of the finest surgical residency programs in the nation. Just to be considered for their program you have to be among the top candidates in the world. The series follows a group of young surgeons as they struggle to make it to the top of program.. The viewpoint for the series is one of those young doctors, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo). She was born to be a surgeon, her mother Ellis (Kate Burton) was once a world famous and innovative surgeon now afflicted with the rapidly degenerating Alzheimer's disease. Friendship is a strange concept in a highly competitive situation such as this. Meredith’s best friends and main rivals include her roommates Isobel "Izzie" Stevens (Katherine Heigl) and George O'Malley (T.R. Knight). Izzie came from a poor background, earning enough money to pay for her education by becoming a lingerie model, something most of the male doctors know very well. George has the worse plight possible for a guy; he is nerdy but so emotionally open that he befriends women. He is always one of the girls and never the boyfriend. Also in this group of newbie surgeons is Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) and Alex Karev (Justin Chambers). Christina is one of the most ambitious of the lot. She is always the first to volunteer for rounds or a new procedure. Alex considers himself a ladies man, using his handsome looks to get close to the ample supply of young nurses.
The first episode sets up the dramatic conflict for the first season. In the season opener Meredith wakes up after a one night stand picked up in a local bar. As it turns out the man she was with is her boss, Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey). Actually, Derek is her boss’ boss. Under him and directly over Meredith and the others is Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), a short woman so large in will and demands that her nickname in the hospital is ‘The Nazi’. Over them all is the all powerful Chief of Surgery, Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.). As it turns out he was romantically involved with Meredith’s mother when they where residents. What makes this series different from others in the genre is the basic format. Each week there is a voice over by Meredith musing over some personal plight or revelation. The plot of the episode then goes on to explore this theme both with Meredith and her colleagues. It seems that ABC found this ploy successful with the series that usual precedes this one, Desperate Housewives and also used it here.
The personal travails of this hapless group of students are set against their training. Learning to be a surgeon is one of the most difficult disciplines in modern medicine. The residents have to vie against each other for the best cases; position themselves in a favorable light with their teachers and superiors to get a shot at ‘scrubbing in’ and perhaps actually performing procedures. If this sounds a little too close to a soap opera you are right. I say this as a compliment though. Like a soap opera the stories and characters pull you in immediately. While I have been a fan of medical dramas since I first watched Ben Casey but found that a few minutes into the first episode I was hooked. This show is primarily about the people. While some of the medicine is pushing things a bit it is just the backdrop used to set the stage. The stories allow for incredibly well scored character arcs and that is what will pull you from episode to episode.
This is the greatest ensemble cast for a medical drama since St. Elsewhere. The casting directors really earned their salaries here. For most of the audience Ellen Pompeo will be a new face. She did have a part in the action flick Daredevil that was cut from the theatrical release. Pompeo wears her role as Meredith Grey with ease. She comes across as bright, pretty and ultimately as confused about life as the rest of us. While many surgeons have the persona of God like beings above the common crowd, Meredith is all too fragile, holding on to her humanity while learning to carve open human beings. Her relationship with Derek is always strained. She often resorts to the local bar after her shift; trying desperately to make sense of it all. It would appear that Katherine Heigl is trying to make a career playing characters named Izzie. Unlike her alien Izzie in Roswell here she is a complete, fully formed human being. Although she is beautiful, intelligent and talented Izzie is insecure. She earned her way through school with her looks and now has to struggle to be known for her mind and skills. T.R. Knight shows exceptional talent in his portrayal of the lamented George. He plays the role with such incredible empathy that you can’t help but to feel for him. One scene in particular sums up the character of George. While trying to take a shower Izzie and Meredith burst into the bathroom clad only in their underwear to put on their makeup and get ready for the day. They don’t see George as a man; he is just George, their friend and roommate. Adding to George’s quandary Izzie reminds him that it is his turn to shop and he has to pick up their tampons. Sandra Oh has been a favorite of mine for awhile. Featured in several independent films she shines here. Oh certainly earned her 2006 Golden Globe here. She gives Christina two sides of personality. At work she is driven, pushing past the rules to give herself the advantage. In her personal life she is confused and uncertain. Chandra Wilson is another breakout star of this series. Rather than relegating her character to a one dimensional uber boss the writers have given her a back story. Bailey has a life outside of work, including a husband. She may be tough on the outside but she possesses a human center. She understand what her charges are going through, it was only a few short years ago she was a resident. Still, she has to be hard on them since lives depend on their training.
Buena Vista has done an excellent job bringing the first season of this series to DVD. Since this was a mid-year replacement it is a short season with only nine episodes. Four episodes intended for season one where moved to season two. The video is presented in an exceptional 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. The color balance is almost without peer. The contrast is excellent. The audio is Dolby 5.1 with a full frequency range. This is important since the musical soundtrack is integral to the series. Fortunately it seems that they did get the licenses for all the songs presented. The extras are a notch above anything on television today. Under The Knife is a behind the scenes featurette detailing the production of the series. There is a collection of unaired scenes called A Hard Day's Night, fittingly names since almost all of season one’s episodes are title with the names of popular songs. One funny bit added to the extras is a phony French trailer created as a joke by the production company. Add to this commentary tracks on selected episodes ad you have a must have DVD box set. If you haven’t become a fan yet this is the perfect way to get to know this excellent series. For fans this is a no-brainer, it is a must have.