Why Grey’s Anatomy should be your next box set
James R | On 11, Apr 2021
Grey’s Anatomy is finally back on our screens this autumn, with Shondaland’s hospital saga reaching its 18th season. That makes it the longest-running medical drama on television, surpassing ER’s 15 seasons, and with the most recent season tackling the coronavirus pandemic head-on, it shows no signs of slowing down just yet.
Curious but scared to plug yourselves in? We breakdown why you should catch up with Grey’s Anatomy into seven simple reasons. For more on how to watch Season 18, click here.
1. There are 18 seasons
There’s nothing scarier in the world of TV than a show that’s already umpteen seasons in. With 373 episodes already made, it would take you 15 and a half days to watch the whole of Grey’s Anatomy back-to-back without pausing for sleep. But that level of commitment is precisely why Grey’s Anatomy is ripe for catching up – not because it’s guaranteed to fill up most of your time spent indoors during a global pandemic (although it is), but because the show’s success is rooted in going on the rollercoaster of the characters’ lives as they do. Like sticking with a close friend through thick and thin, it’s a marathon that leaves you emotionally engaged in every moment of drama – and there are many, many moments of drama.
2. The doctors
There’s no point in investing time in a medical drama if you can’t stand the doctors, and the staff at Seattle Grace Hospital are a fine bunch. They’re diverse, full of rounded female characters, sprinkled with handsome men and cover a wide range of physical and mental disabilities, all of which enables them to tackle serious issues with equality, tolerance and support and without making a big deal out of it.
Now there’s no getting round the fact that, this being Shondaland, the show has a ruthless knack for bumping characters off at a moment’s notice, but by sticking with the same hospital for so many serialised episodes, the programme becomes not just a rotating carousel of cast members but a beautiful tapestry of personal and professional journeys – from Season 1 and 2, when our main characters are interns learning the ropes, through to later seasons when they have to work out their priorities, goals and willingness to compromise. Wisdom is always on hand from veteran Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr) – at once weary, funny, sincere, smart and foolish – and the tough-but-tender Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), who help guide each generation of doctors through the chaos. Whether it’s sacrificing romance to become the best surgeon in the world or changing things up to make more for family, all human life is here at some stage or another – a lot like Friends, but with more life-threatening injuries.
3. The friendships
It’s no surprise that Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo – resilient, considerate, skilled and no-nonsense) is the main character of the show, but what we discover from the very first episode is that the heart of the series is the bond between Meredith and Cristina (Sandra Oh – hardcore bad-ass, witheringly hilarious, uncompromisingly brilliant), who refer to each other as “their person”. We get to see exactly why as they stick together no matter what – even when Cristina does eventually leave the show, the writers keep her in the background as a friend who still sends messages to check in.
4. The relationships
10 seasons in, the hospital attempts to introduce a non-fraternising policy, and with good reason: when the doctors aren’t busy fishing things out of orifices or undertaking risky surgery, they’re busy getting steamy in empty side rooms. The most important couple are Meredith and Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), aka “McDreamy”, who hook up in a bar before realising that they’re working together – and that he’s married. But their on-off entanglements eventually settle into firmly “on”, and you’ll be rooting for them long before then – when a couple can make Post-It note romantic, you know it’s endgame.
Other key couples along the way include: combat veteran Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) and Cristina, as he tries to overcome PTSD and his innate selfish streak and she tries to move on from a messy marriage; heartthrob Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams), the grandson of legendary Dr Harper Avery and powerful Catherine Avery, and the endearingly intense April Kepner (Sarah Drew), who can’t keep away from each other; Meredith’s little sister Lexie Grey (Chyler Leigh) and Mark “McSteamy” Sloan (Eric Dane), whose unlikely but adorable bond leaves a long-lasting legacy for the whole hospital; the sunny yet fierce orthopedic surgeon Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez) and Arizona Robbins (Jessica Capshaw), who see their long-term commitment tested by a life-or-death dilemma; and Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) with almost every female intern you could name, but who eventually grows into one of your favourite characters nonetheless.
5. The patients
There’s still time between all of this personal drama for patients to make an impact, whether it’s a man and woman getting impaled on the same pole, a shocking revelation involving a John Doe, a white supremacist who insists that only a white doctor treats him, or a guy who doesn’t have the medical insurance needed for a vital operation so a doctor ends up marrying him. Yes, patient-doctor flings are a thing too, with Alex drawn into a close bond with Rebecca (Elizabeth Reaser), a Jane Doe who loses her memory and has a face transplant after a ferry disaster, and ends up convinced that Alex is hers soulmate. Nothing, though, can hold a candle to the relationship that forms between the bubbly doctor Izzie (Katherine Heigl) – previously involve with the underused George O’Malley (TR Knight) – and the swoonsome Denny (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who is waiting for a heart transplant. Their relationship puts her career in jeopardy and then her mental wellbeing in a plotline that’s so absurd yet so well performed that it ends up gripping anyway.
6. The stakes
Absurd yet gripping is the MO of Shondaland’s flagship programme, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the ridiculous yet riveting disasters and crises that unfold without warning. In Season 2, Meredith has to hold a bomb inside a patient’s body to stop it exploding, while Season 3 charts the aftermath of that ferry accident – all the kind of things that emphasise the stakes for both doctors and patients. In Season 8, a harrowing plane crash sows seeds of trauma that run for the rest of the show, while Season 11 bids farewell to a character in the most ignominious way right after they’ve heroically saved several lives. The most nail-biting, though, is a season finale three-parter that sees a shooter on the loose in the hospital, angry for revenge after losing a wife in an earlier episode – leading to simultaneous operations being done at gunpoint and several individuals fighting through impossible situations by themselves. Even an episode in Season 7 in which everybody sings can’t undo that kind of impact.
6. The weddings
It’s not just accidents and crashes that can disrupt lives: Grey’s Anatomy is second only to Game of Thrones when it comes to dramatic wedding days from an early upset for Cristina to the repeated obstacles getting in the way of Meredith and Derek making a formal commitment to each other – and that before you even start to get to Bailey taking off the dress for a big day to get stuck into an operation or the tangled mess that is April’s wedding. There’s even a moment where Derek steps out of a wedding so he can get a job offer from the President. Yes, really.
7. The grief
If all of this sounds like a lot of exhausting trauma, that’s precisely why Grey’s Anatomy has kept fans coming back season after season. Its serialised approach to storytelling and epic running time means that it becomes a show that’s not about the shocking cliffhangers but about getting to the other side of them with the characters you’ve grown to care about. The writing places the emphasis on support and communication, on people being able to crumble under pressure and suffer openly, but build themselves back stronger because of the tragedies they’ve endured. In one season, the doctors work together to save the hospital from a commercial buy-out, and that teamwork in the face of grief and impossible odds is uplifting as well as moving. And, just to seal the deal, it does this while playing songs like How to Save a Life and Chasing Cars in case you’re in tears already. As Derek puts it, “it’s a beautiful day to save lives”, and Grey’s Anatomy finds the beauty amid the awkward dinner parties, pained social interactions, unprofessional conduct and bad personal decisions. And, more often not, they really do save lives.
Grey’s Anatomy: Season 1 to 16 is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription. It is also available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.