tisdag 3 maj 2011

The hospital series trap

It was with great reluctance I started watching "Grey's Anatomy" a few years ago. I'm not fond of hospital series. With the exception of the extremely light-hearted German series "The Schwarzwald Clinic", which happily dispensed with the rule that, as a sop to reality, once in a while someone actually has to die, hospital series tend to be depressing. This is not surprising. Death and disease are commonplace occurrences in hospitals - they are not sunny, upbeat places. And yet, it's not as if hospital series are usually made with the intention of being TV's answer to Greek Tragedies: mostly they're supposed to be comparatively light, middle-of-the-week entertainment. It seems an impossible thing to pull off, but many series have tried.

And for a long time, "Grey's Anatomy" succeeded. The focus was squarely on the doctors, their relationship problems and their career dilemmas. Patients came and went, and sometimes things ended badly, sometimes not, but they were only the side show, not the main attraction. Mostly, they didn't stay around long enough for the viewer to brood on their fate. The doctors' professional heartlessness helped, too. When faced with a horrific injury or rare illness, their reaction was not "oh, poor soul" but "yay, surgery!". Operating was seen as a job, and an intellectually stimulating one. The questions that most engaged the viewer were "Who's going to end up sleeping with whom? Who's going to land that terrific surgery? How will things work out between Derek and Meredith?". You may have rooted for a patient or two and hoped that they would pull through, but if he/she died you didn't feel like shooting yourself.

But now, finally, "Grey's Anatomy" (I'm watching the sixth season) has succumbed to the Curse of the Hospital Series. Many of the series' problems aren't related to the genre, just long-running-series-fatigue. One tell-tale sign is when a bunch of new characters are introduced, and are then under-used. In "Grey's Anatomy", a group of new surgeons arrived in connection with a hospital merger, but we haven't seen much of them. The doe-eyed potential female love interest seems to have vanished completely, and the bastard whose behaviour got series stalwart Izzie fired looks set to follow. (Seriously, how did they imagine that any character would be able to survive such a bad start?). However, as we engage less and less with the personal story lines, the balance shifts and romantic intrigues can no longer dispel the accumulating gloom of Cases Going Badly. The last episode took the biscuit, with a doting husband who learns that his wife's operation went perfectly, only for her to suffer a coma-inducing stroke in the time it takes him to reach her bedside. "Can I wake her up?" he asks, happy and oblivious. Things do not improve from there, and if the descriptions of coming episodes are anything to go by, this is not the last we see of this grief-stricken, obviously-no-great-fan-of-the-hospital character.

There are still things that make "Grey's Anatomy" just about watchable, such as the wonderful Christina: career-obsessed, brilliant at her job and unapologetically unemotional. But I wonder if I will bother with buying season seven. Still, six seasons before the grim reality of hospital life finally get the better of the series (though there have been sticky moments before): that's no mean achievement.