Originally published April 6, 2011 on Intersections.
It’s been a long time since Grey’s was good. Now in its seventh season, the show has soldiered on past embarrassing PR debacles (Google “Isaiah Washington anti-gay slur” or simply “Katherine Heigl” for details) to deliver its unique mix of voice-overs, medical-speak, increasingly ridiculous relationship entanglements and overly emotive music montages to addicted viewers weekly.
These days, watching Grey’s Anatomy is like biting your nails—not quite as bad a habit as chain-smoking, but not exactly something you want to cop to on a first date. The show was good back in the day when there was that train crash episode where two people were impaled on the same pole—that was genuinely tragic, well-acted and written and still sparks a tear or two. Now they just spend all their time arguing about babies.
So when the news broke months and months ago that Grey’s would be trying a musical episode (operative word being try), I envisioned either a slapstick, self-referencing, delightful musical extravaganza a la the genius that was Joss Whedon’s “Once More With Feeling” from Buffy, or an awkward mess of failure featuring tragic overuse of Sara Ramirez’s Tony-winning voice and too much emoting to Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars”. One or the other. Neither can live while the other survives.
As it turns out, I was both correct and eerily prophetic. Grey’s is the show that launched a thousand mid-tempo radio hits, so it makes sense that the songs used would be, well, mid-tempo radio hits and therefore entirely unsuited for a musical episode. “Chasing Cars”, “Breathe” and “Wait” are nice, pleasant pieces of background listening, but their lyrics don’t fit into any story an episode might try to tell (“show me a garden that’s bursting into life”?). Too frequently characters stand awkwardly around a bustling hospital scene open-mouthed and singing. There’s really only one choreographed scene/number that works, and it’s about—surprise!—sex.
Beneath the cut, a recap of “Song Beneath the Song,” the much-anticipated Grey’s Anatomy musical episode that aired this past Thursday.
When we last left Seattle Grace, Callie and Arizona had been hit by a car. Well, Arizona had been driving a car that hit some other car on the way to a bed and breakfast in the mountains because she was impromptu-proposing to her preggo girlfriend with this hopeful, perfect face that you just want to marry—
–a happy, bi-winning face that was not looking at the road in front. And then the car was coming up too fast and someone gasped and someone shrieked and then there was blackness and, well, here we are. Not exactly what I had expected for The Musical Episode.
We open on the scene of the accident. Arizona wakes up from the soft cushiony goodness of her airbag (4 for you, Arizona) to find Callie flung headfirst out the windshield, blood and glass everywhere. Sara Ramirez voice-overs about the human brain and trauma and something deep but I can’t focus on anything because Callie is making these horrific, panicky little gasps—not gasps, even, but like pained, open-mouthed attempts at taking in air and screaming all at once—and oh, if there ever was a more effective way to get me to wear my seatbelt.
Flash to the hospital, where the entire cast is waiting at the doors of the ER for the ambulance bearing bad news. Here’s where things get weird. Sara Ramirez is having an out-of-body experience this entire episode, which works in the context of Grey’s Anatomy’s tried-and-true practice of strange apparitions (see: Izzie’s ghost sex with Denny, George appearing in an army uniform, Ellis Grey), but it’s immediately and patently obvious that this out-of-body experience is just a trick to free Sara Ramirez up for singing on-camera.
She breaks into, yes, “Chasing Cars” as Callie is wheeled from the ambulance into the ER, and it’s as awkward and heavy-handed as I had imagined. It’s a shame, because Callie’s acting as she’s heaving and in hysterics on the hospital bed, bloodied and intubated but very much awake with fear piercing through her wide, wide eyes—this is clearly Ramirez’s scene is all I have to say, and “Chasing Cars” does not belong in it.
But lo! Soft, what light from yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Kevin McKidd is the sun. I want him and his golden voice to sing to me forever. Owen, Callie and Bailey stand around singing “Chasing Cars” as the team works on their fallen colleague and it sounds great, but as a scene it falls flat. The direction for this scene must have been awkward—“stand there and look sad, Kevin, while you sing.”