Grey Matter

Fresh characters and intricate performances hold the show together in its first season-but they surely won't last.

By Leo Charney
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 22, 2006

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Grey's Anatomy: Season One
Includes: Commentary tracks, deleted scenes, featurettes and more.
You'll Like It If You Like: Hospital shows, Ally McBeal, romantic comedies.

TV shows always get worse. They can't help it. To keep the show going, characters need to get deeper (sappier) and relationships need to get more complicated (sentimental). "There comes a moment," Ilene Chaiken, creator of The L Word, said in The New York Times a few weeks ago, "when you can't just keep doing the same thing over and over again-you have to give the character more of a known inner life."

Well, why? It means that abrasive characters get softer, mean characters get nicer, everyone gets a back-story, and people grow to understand and respect each other in new ways. So is Grey's Anatomy, in its second season, already headed downhill? It seems to be lubing up to jump the shark any day now, with its Super Bowl-sized audience, two-part storyline about bombs and humanization of all its previously bullying, arrogant or priggish characters.

With the new DVD of the show's first season, you can decide if things were better before Meredith knew McDreamy was married. That event, which closed season one, made Grey an even more overt clone of Ally McBeal: skinny, spunky, squeaky single gal contends with shaky workplace self-confidence; mean bosses, addled parents and hyper-competitive colleagues (yet friends) around her; and unresolved feelings for a hot yet shifty guy whose wife works with her too.

It's Mary Tyler Moore with an Asian-American Rhoda and an African-American/female Lou Grant, Friends in a hospital, ER if Doug and Carol (or Luka and Abby) were front-burner all the time. Like any new TV show, the writing leavens two scoops of something old with one scoop of something new: a more interracial and female-heavy cast (and staff), more hip pop music to comment on the action, and a desire-according to show creator Shonda Rhimes and director/producer Peter Horton (yes, Gary from thirtysomething) on their commentary track-to focus less on the cases than on the main characters and an irreverent tone.

"She created the show to please herself," reports one of the producers, and Rhimes' sensibility seems to be one part Sex and the City, one part St. Elsewhere, one part iTunes. The first season struggles to hold its focus and tone, abandoning voiceover and a chronological format, concentrating more or less on the medical cases, teetering among comedy, drama and romance.

Through it all, the fresh characters and intricate performances hold the show together. The actors lead with their voices-Sandra Oh's strangled sarcasm as competitive Christina, Chandra Wilson's brassy blasts as bossy Bailey, T.R. Knight's endearing fumblings as George. (We learn on the commentary track that Oh was cast as Bailey before she asked to switch to the more mainstream Christina.)

It's also a show about eyes: Meredith and Derek talk through their looks, and the vacant stare of Meredith's Alzheimer's-addled mother undercuts her vestigially commanding tone. (Horton notes that he first saw the show as being about surveillance, the invisible eyes and visible cameras that watch these interns' every move.)

The startling chemistry between one-time has-been Dempsey and Zellwegeresque Ellen Pompeo as Meredith gives the show its emotional throughline, as do such relatable emotions as fear of bosses, envy of friends and decline of parents. They pass the TV test: You want to come back and spend more time with them each week. Now you can have them in your house too, saving them up for that sadly coming-soon day when the show screws it up.

Swindled (Incautos)
There's a whole genre of twisty con movies-House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Grifters, The Sting and Nine Queens, to name just a few. These con-game tales pile twist on twist on twist, and we're in on some of them and not on others.

David Mamet is the master of this kind of story, and it suits his love of power games. The audience knows some of the secrets, so we feel we're getting an inside look at the con, but not all of them, so we still feel the titillation of surprise. We're partly the dupers, partly the duped. It's a genre that leaves some people feeling manipulated, others challenged and exhilarated.

If you like this kind of spin, Swindled is a Spanish go-'round, with a master/student twist. Like many of these films, it revolves around a tricky, sexy woman (played by Spanish icon Victoria Abril), a suave old master and a naive young con man who forgets the first rule of con movies (and film noir): Trust no one. Especially a woman.

We go through the usual motions, guessing (sort of) until the very end about who's swindling whom. There's a rich dying husband, a no-good friend from childhood, and a wise old small-timer who gets outfoxed by slicker colleagues. You won't see anything new if you've seen this kind of movie before-or even if you've seen Double Indemnity or the Lost from two weeks ago in which Sawyer robbed the poor woman who thought she was in on his scam. But if you like this kind of thing, it's a sleek and fun tour of some favorite twists and turns. B

You'll Like It If You Like: Con-game stories, David Mamet, Victoria Abril.

Sin Destino

Mysterious Skin meets Los Olvidados. This grim Mexican drama follows a 15-year-old hustler who keeps trying-and failing-to make his life better. Traumatized by childhood encounters with a creepy older man who took nude pictures of young boys, Francisco barely scrapes together a living as a small-time hustler, doing things like jacking off in a public toilet while a man watches (the film's opening scene).

Francisco's friend David (a brash drug dealer) encourages him to have sex with a woman, and Francisco's found his candidate: an angelic blond girl whom he's seen from a distance in his neighborhood. When drugs complicate his seduction, everything goes very bad very fast.

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