Friday, April 1, 2011

Did Grey's Anatomy: The Musical Event Sing?

Well, folks, I wouldn’t have seen myself here for this particular purpose in a million years, but brace yourselves, Interweb and TV snobs alike, because I’m about to rave review the crap out of Grey’s Anatomy. Yes, that show. The very same melodramatic, repetitive, monologue-laden Grey’s Anatomy that, in an era when the preponderance of musical TV seems to be at an all-time high, managed to pool its collective creative resources and put out a really fine hour of television and the show's single best episode since last season's finale, in my newly humble opinion.

Viewers had been waiting for this musical event with varying degrees of anticipatory glee. Me, I wasn’t expecting very much, both because Grey’s is not my favorite thing on TV and because the musical episode is a feat many shows have done before to varying degrees of success. (I loved the Scrubs musical and, in spite of my better judgment, still enjoy Glee. And to all you Buffy fanatics out there: relax; the only reason I’m not extolling it here is because I haven’t yet gotten around to watching the entire series. Someday, fellow Whedonites. Someday.) Perhaps that’s why I was so blown away by “Song Beneath the Song,” which succeeded in the added challenges of being a non-cheesy musical chapter in a drama and fitting into the larger-scale continuity of the show. In other words, it wasn't a standalone.

Granted, not all the musical interludes made sense within the framework of the episode, in that they were supposed to be a projection of Callie’s damaged brain/subconscious even though neither Callie nor astral Callie were present for all of them. Still, the production struck a good balance of reality and dream, and I liked the way the music was integrated, at times being superimposed with real dialogue. And I really liked the way the episode stayed true to one of the show’s trademarks—characters overly repeating certain lines—but this time switched it up by interrupting those repetitions with the musical sequences. Finally, I liked how this detail was mirrored in the final scene, with Callie’s first words upon waking being her acceptance of Arizona’s marriage proposal, a continuation of her earlier speech in the car fantasy.

Musically, though it was obvious that most of the cast members aren’t singers, I think the gang did a decent job of faking it for a night. And none was better (or more featured) than Sara Ramirez, who was luminous and fierce and totally in her element—clearly, that Tony was well deserved—which was fitting, since the episode was narrated from her character’s perspective. Her version of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” that kicked off the episode had me so enraptured that I had a stronger-than-usual urge to smack Owen Hunt when he cut in for the second stanza. All in all, it might not have been a perfect musical episode, but it was a great Grey’s Anatomy episode, unusually well written and well directed.

Here were some of my favorite moments (I’ll fight the urge to recount the episode scene by scene):

  • The slow-motion sequence. Can someone explain to me how Callie’s lip movements were slowed down yet in perfect sync to the song recording?
  • The “How to Save a Life” number. Sure, the famous Fray song is a huge clichĂ©, but it happened to fit in really well with what was happening on-screen.
  • Arizona saving the baby. It worked out perfectly, her being the only one of the Callie/Mark/Arizona parental trio to be legally allowed to treat the baby, and by doing so, carving for herself the much-coveted connection to said baby. Biology, be damned—Dr. Robbins just became a mother. Well played, Grey’s.
  • Callie belting out “The Story.” Ramirez’s emotive singing, pitch-perfect acting and vocal power made this cover more than worthy of Brandi Carlile’s original rendition.
What did you love about “Song Beneath the Song”? What did you hate? And how do you feel about this ever-popular musical television trend?

P.S. How awful would it be of me to say "April Fools!" right now?


  1. I will admit: I spent much of the time wondering if someone was going to mess up (flashbacks to the "Mama Mia" movie), and I was pleasantly surprised. It was emotional, it was sweet, less-than believable, but made me smile. Callie's rendition of "The Story" was pure beauty. And the whole treatment of "whose baby is this?" was wonderfully done.

    I am curious how many personal tragedies the cast can endure before this becomes just a soap opera. Who HASN'T nearly died or gone insane? All we're missing is amnesia, right?

  2. I completely disagree. In fact, I'm wondering if perhaps this is an April Fool's post and I'm just too dense to get it. This has to be one of the WORST Grey's episodes in recent history, if not of all time. I literally cringed throughout the episode and kept watching only to see if my beloved Dr. Torres would live. Watching this episode was physically painful. I was embarrassed for the cast and the writers of the show. I felt there was a real lack of artistry and that the songs were not matched well. There was no razzle dazzle. It didn't play like a musical, it was just a bunch of doctors singing while they overacted. (Miranda Bailey and red-headed doctor I'm looking at you) What I'm saying is, I didn't feel it peeps. Not to mention that they flew in Dr. Addison ( my favorite female tv doctor) and didn't even use her in the show! Total waste. For an example of a good musical incorporation into a show see the episode of House from a few weeks ago, that was good. Grey's was just sad and pretty pathetic. (And I say this as someone who watches and likes the show regularly!)

  3. @Cynic - Also, no evil twins yet. Here's hoping, though. But yes, I'm (obviously) with you; I loved the episode in spite of its flaws. And hello? When did Mark Sloan become three dimensional? Some great acting on that front. The other scene I loved and forgot to mention above was MerDer in the elevator. Again, great acting on Meredith's part and, even more shocking, great writing. That little monologue was so heartbreaking and real and completely devoid of the show's typical "quirky" treatment, which was great.

    @Liz - Wow. Were we watching the same show? Clearly, we must agree to disagree on this one. And yet, this is so perplexing to me that I wonder if perhaps you weren't in the right frame of mind to enjoy it? I mean, did you at least like Callie in the episode? Because I literally just finished watching the whole thing for the third time and still loved it. Sure, it was over the top, but over the top is Grey's bread and butter.

    But I am with you on the Addy front. I was so excited to see her get off the helicopter and then... she disappeared. What was the point? Only to give Sassy Blonde Doctor (love your moniker for her) another lame future complex? A waste, indeed.

    And I liked Dr. House singing "Get Happy" too. It was very creepy and dark. The difference is that it was a very traditional musical interlude, what with the costumes and choreography and total "razzle dazzle", which was not what Grey's was even going for. I don't think that kind of thing would have worked on this show and certainly not for the whole episode.

  4. @ Liz

    I totally agree. I thought this episode was terrible. This episode was thoroughly disappointing. Bursting into song instead of focusing on saving Callie's life and using song to settle arguments -- it was all lame.

    The dialogue, the singing, it all felt forced. It was embarrassing.

    "Song Beneath the Song" wouldn't have been a bad thing if an overwhelming majority of the Grey's Anatomy fan base also happened to like Glee.

    But I don't think that's the case. So by trying to appeal to the minority they alienate the majority. I thought it was a very bad move.

  5. @ Andrew -

    I don't mind being in the minority here, but your comment about "bursting into song instead of focusing on saving Callie's life"... you do realize that's not what was happening right? A musical does not force its actors to choose between singing and acting. Your complaints seem to stem from a basic dislike of the inherent qualities of the musical genre. Nothing wrong with that.

  6. @ Brandy
    If you say so.

    Definition of Burst
    To give sudden expression to or as if to emotion: to burst into applause; to burst into tears.

    They also started singing at inappropriate times. How do I know that's inappropriate?

    If Doctors in a real ER did what they did the hospital would be liable. Hell, if there was a car accident and I stopped to help then I started singling like that it would be socially awkward/unacceptable. I'd probably get punched in the face for that.

    So explain to me why the "bursting into song" in a crisis situation on the show is okay when there *isn't* an overall expectation for that to happen?

    With Glee, you know what you're getting into. It's stated explicitly. This episode was something else all together.

    Also, whether I like musicals or not is irrelevant.

  7. (liable if someone died or developed complications as a result)

  8. I hated it too! But, generally not a fan of musicals. (I tolerate My Fair Lady & the Sound of Music - because I grew up watching those) I don't have enough interest to CHOOSE any new musicals. I am a long time fan of Greys Anatomy and I thought this episode was super lame.

  9. @Andrew -

    OK, let me see if I can hit all of your points, more clearly this time:

    1. Your use of the term "burst" was not what I took issue with. It was your implication that the doctors were singing INSTEAD of saving Callie's life. As I mentioned above, there is no either/or scenario in a musical; the actors simply used the music to reinforce what they were doing. Which brings me to...

    2. The total and utter unprofessionalism of doctors singing in an ER. You're absolutely right, of course: that would be totally inappropriate and illegal... if it were done for real! But musicals are simply fiction. Not only in the way the TV show itself is fiction, but it is fiction also in the fictional universe of the show itself. In other words, we the spectators know the doctors are singing up there on the screen, but the characters themselves are not aware of it and neither are any fictional observers in the Grey's universe itself.

    3. And this is why I suspected you're really just not a fan of the musical genre. It might not be relevant; it was just a guess.

    4. In response to your observation that the episode was a complete deviation from the format of the show: absolutely, it was! It was a gimmick and a way to increase ratings, for sure, and as a fan of musicals, I enjoyed it. But I think I made it pretty clear in my evaluation that it wasn't the musical-ness of it that I appreciated as much as what I perceived to be a dramatic increase in the quality of the writing and direction present in this episode. Usually the style of dialogue on this show annoys me to no end and often causes me to disconnects even with the parts of an average episode that I do like. In "Song Beneath" I was totally glued to the screen and "in the moment" the whole way through. Even the medical mumbo-jumbo was exciting. Another thing I appreciated was that the episode was purely about the regular characters. No extraneous patients or family members to fill up minutes or bring about conflicts. The conflict at the heart of this episode was more than enough to create some pretty intense drama. The Seattle Gracies is why most people watch the show in the first place, is it not?

    @Rachel -

    Welcome to the Comments and thank you for your honesty!

  10. Seattle Gracies-lol-love that name for them. I agree with Brandy, of course it would be inappropriate for a doctor to burst into song but Grey's is not a reality based show. I'm actually surprised you (Andrew) expect it to be realistic as it has never been that kind of show. Their monologues are definitely not realistic, people don't (or at least shouldn't regularly) burst into long, emotional, often weepy, monologues to their co-workers, much less their patients and superiors. There are also the numerous ridiculous stunts pulled on a regular basis (Karev lives in a trailer in front of the hospital, seriously folks?) and the insane plot twists (who hasn't almost died on this show?), not to mention the silly patient stories they come up with week after week. This is not a realistic show and it never has been, that's probably why it's a successful tv drama (and McDreamy's kind eyes.) I personally didn't mind that they were singing, I just didn't think they did it well or in an interesting fashion. I disagree with Brandy that the episode had a dramatic increase in the quality of the writing, in fact I think the quality plummeted, sharply. But I've grown to rather enjoy their silly monologues as it's fun to repeat them in completely different situations, such as doing Meredith's "choose me" speech when being considered for a baseball team. To me the episode felt silly and disjointed and like they were forcing an emotional reaction from every character that didn't ring true. Also it was stated explicitly that this episode would be musical as the endless promos for "Grey's Anatomy: The Musical Experience of The Season were attached to every ABC show the week before the episode aired.