Frown. Sigh. Pout. It’s an immutable TV fact that “Grey’s Anatomy’s” Meredith Grey is one of the mopiest characters on the tube.
As she whined her way from season to season, though, audiences came to tolerate her maudlin, down-in-the-mouth outlook on life. The rest of the characters on “Grey’s” were a major counterbalance to Meredith’s self-loathing, interjecting a much-needed sense of whimsy, humor and upbeat attitude into the show.
But last season, Meredith’s melancholy went viral and infected nearly every other doctor at Seattle Grace, hopping from character to character like a contagious disease.
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Derek Shepherd: The love of Meredith’s life finally gave up trying to convince his on-again, off-again girlfriend that they could make it work. Even his sweet hair wasn’t enough to keep McDreamy from descending down into the dumps. He did find a little satisfaction in a rebound relationship with Nurse Rose, but his character coasted limply through most of the season.
Cristina Yang: Formerly feisty Yang withdrew into a balled-up mess after her fiancé and mentor (Isaiah Washington’s Preston Burke) split town. She was reduced to mewing about why Burke’s replacement, the intriguing Erica Hahn, wasn’t being pleasant.
Alex Karev: Karev’s first-ever potentially rich ongoing plotline — his growing relationship with former patient Rebecca — came to a creepy and unfulfilling end when Rebecca became wrongly convinced she was pregnant, then tried to kill herself. Downbeat? Uh, yeah. But at least the arc gave Karev, ordinarily devoid of even the tiniest shard of emotion, an opportunity to show some indignation toward his fellow docs as he ignored Rebecca's issues, enabling her every step of the way.
Izzie Stevens, George O’Malley and Callie Torres: Katherine Heigl’s Izzie did little but try to win the respect of a jerky bunch of new interns, and attempt to romance the always-stammering George, who continued to deal, kind of, with flunking his intern exams. Maybe it sounded good in the writers' room, but in reality, George and Izzie became the most-hated TV pairing since Connor and his mother figure Cordelia on “Angel.” “Gizziegate” trickled over to other characters, as well. Callie, formerly one of the show’s most vibrant characters, spent the season wallowing through the stages of grief as she dealt with her husband George’s philandering.
Lexie Grey: Meredith’s mood set the tone for the season, and all the color was washed out of the show’s cast — with the exception of Chyler Leigh as Meredith’s spunky half-sister Lexie. Sure, she had her own issues going on, but at least she was upbeat and smiled on occasion. But carrying all of the show’s optimism on her bony little shoulders is a big job, and unless she finds somebody to help spread a bit of sunshine around Seattle Grace, stat, she just may curl up in the fetal position with the rest of her depressed colleagues.
Hour-long pity party
“Grey’s” works best when it combines cool medical cases with whimsy and character-driven drama. But for most of season four, this formerly well-balanced show tipped only toward deep depression. Like fellow medical drama “ER,” “Grey’s” bogged down in too much drudge.
Sure, conflict equals drama. But any conflict that arose last season felt false — “Grey’s” had become an hour-long pity party, without the compelling, “ER”-meets-“Desperate Housewives” spark that initially grabbed audiences’ interest.
And people finally decided they’d had enough. If you listened closely, you could hear viewer after viewer yanking the show from their Tivo season-pass list. May’s season finale was down almost three million viewers from the season premiere.
Critics and viewers aren’t the only ones calling for a moratorium on the show’s morose mood. Even some cast members got into the act. Last year’s best supporting actress winner Heigl pulled her name from this year’s Emmy competition, saying, “I didn’t feel that I was given the material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination.” You and three million others, sister.
But wait! A glimmer of hope. During the season four finale, creator Shonda Rhimes began to pull the show out of its maudlin nosedive and give the audience a sneak preview of the “Grey’s” of the future — and more important, the “Grey’s” of the past. Whether she can fulfill that upward movement is yet to be seen, but early peeks have left some critics and fans cautiously optimistic: (If you haven’t seen the fourth-season finale, cover your eyes.)
Meredith cracked through her issues with her late mother and realized that she and McDreamy could indeed make it work. Rhimes staged the scene where Meredith relayed the news to Derek perfectly — amid hundreds of lit votive candles in the outline of the dream house Derek desperately wanted them to share.
George finally demanded, and was given, a second chance at graduating to resident status.
Izzie de-doormatted herself and finally won the respect of her interns, then ended up smooching Alex.
Callie recovered from the emotional wounds that George inflicted, then ended up smooching Hahn.
Three new docs are heading to Seattle Grace, and one of them ("Rome's" Kevin McKidd) has his eye on Cristina Yang. Hopefully that’ll give the heartbroken heart surgeon something to do, and restore her to her caustic and endearing old self.
It doesn’t make up for what amounted to a season of wasted opportunity and unfulfilled promises, but here’s hoping “Grey’s,” from Meredith on down, sticks with its newly balanced focus, and can keep those melancholy beasts at bay.
Brian Bellmont is a writer in Minneapolis.