Thursday, February 23, 2006

Popcorn TV

"Grey's Anatomy" is like popcorn. Stay with me here. Grey's was a mid-season add last winter and, as with so many shows, was hyped incessantly during Housewives. I can't tell you if I was brainwashed by the hype, if the ads looked interesting or I was intrigued by a show that had the same name of a movie I happen to like. But some combination of those prompted me to leave the television on ABC after “Desperate Housewives” ended.

And I really enjoyed the first episode. As you may have guessed from the title, Grey's is a hospital drama. The titular character is Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) who, along with four others, is a surgical intern at Seattle Grace Hospital assigned to resident Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) who is known as the Nazi. The interns are starting their first year Meredith suffers from voice-over-itis, much in the way of Ally McBeal or Carrie Bishop. And there are days and time when I like the bookending or transitioning effect of these voiceovers, and days when I want her to shush.

We start the episode (and the day) at Meredith's mother's house where we find her and the attractive gentleman she met at a bar last night. Meredith politely but firmly brushes him off as she heads off to her first day as an intern. Her fellow interns are Isabel "Izzie" Stevens (Katherine Heigl), Christina Yang (Sandra Oh), and George O'Malley (T.R. Knight). (Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) later gets added to their group). Meredith's first case requires the assistance of Seattle Grace's new neurosurgeon, Dr. Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), who also is Meredith's one night stand.

There is also Dr. Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington), whose specialty is cardiology, and who has sparks with Christina. And Dr. Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.), chief of surgery, who was an intern at Seattle Grace at the same time as renowned Dr. Ellis Grey, Meredith's mother.

We soon learn that Meredith's mother has Alzheimer's, and rather than traveling the world - the story she has asked Meredith to share with those who ask - is now living in a nursing home where she drifts back to the days of being an intern herself.

As you may already suspect, Grey's is more about the relationships than the cases. In contrast to "Law & Order", the cases are excuses to help us learn about the doctors. The cases are often wonderful and fascinating, but they are not the center of the story. The cases are more like dates, where we discover new tidbits about these characters.

So, back to popcorn. Well, I told you why I first watched the show. And I enjoyed the (very attractive, not that that matters) characters - especially the wonderful Sandra Oh. The nitpicker in me enjoys the fact that in surgeries on Grey's they always wear face masks (I'm looking at you, "ER"). It has the interesting effect of forcing you to look at their eyes, to try and see what they really mean. But it wasn't must see TV (to use the cliche). I didn't add it to my Season Pass. I watched it because it was on after something else I watched. It was popcorn - light, fluffy and undemanding.

But then something happened. Slowly I started to care about these characters. I sympathized with Meredith and Derek (aka McDreamy) as they dealt with a relationship that had started outside the hospital and shouldn't continue because of their current working relationship, and yet they were constantly together because of their working relationship. I started to love the seemingly prickly Dr. Bailey. I wondered if George would pine after Meredith forever, and if Meredith would ever seem to notice. I learned how Izzie put herself through medical school modeling, and how she relieved stress baking. I wondered if the arrogant player Alex really had the secret pain he teased about.

One of the interesting things about “Grey’s Anatomy” is that each of their characters is so different, so wonderfully flawed, and yet I can find of piece of myself in each of them. That’s not easy to do. But after each episode, I wanted more. Of course, that can also be what annoys you about the show, we hope for our fictional characters to make better choices than we would.

And suddenly, after Housewives had dropped off of my radar, Grey's became an important part of my Sunday. It was added to my Season Pass. And I'm sitting here thinking, but this is my popcorn show! And then I realized, it still was. Popcorn has few calories (unless you load it with stuff) but it has carbohydrates and fiber. And it turns out popcorn is recommended by all sorts of experts as a smart snack. And it's addictive. Okay, now I'm hungry. And you should be too – so, go eat!