Patrick Freyne: Grey’s Anatomy is Love Island with white coats

The show featuring hunky doctors talking about sex is now on its 16th series

In more normal weeks, I like to spend my time hanging out in A&E departments because I enjoy watching the will-they-won't-they dramas, sexual tension and love triangles of the staff, all while playing emotional Coldplay songs on my Sony Discman. Nowadays, in the era of Covid-19, it's very useful that a journalist like me knows so much about doctoring. I watch the programmes. I know how doctors talk. "Sir, could you please leave the hospital?" is a type of sentence doctors like to say, for example.

Grey's Anatomy (RTÉ One, Wednesday) is now on its 16th series. Babies born in the course of its first series are now old enough to drive, engage in climate activism or write misogynistic manifestos on Reddit. The eponymous Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) has been on the programme so long she probably doesn't realise she's on a television programme anymore. When Donald Trump inevitably appoints her as his new chief medical adviser, I'd say she'll just go for it. It couldn't get worse, to be fair.

The surgeons of Grey’s Anatomy are, like the protagonists of similar US dramas, extremely hardworking and good at their jobs, usually staying several sexy strides ahead of their enemy, “death”. I’ve said it before, but I’m tired of “competency porn” on television and would love to see more dramas written about triumphantly mediocre slackers who are difficult to fire.

You really don't want to hear a doctor talking about his issues with commitment just as the drugs take hold

In fairness, there are other ways in which the employees of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital are terrible, terrible doctors. They are always talking about their personal lives and they’re constantly involved in HR-defying romances in supply closets and stairwells. Be warned, kids: this is what happens when you ignore your emotional development in order to get the points for medicine. It’s also very unhygienic behaviour even by the standards of the pre-coronavirus world. One of the most unrealistic things on Grey’s Anatomy is that there aren’t more stains (generally speaking, I’m surprised by how few stains there are in television drama).



Anyway, the last thing you want to hear as you succumb to ether is the sounds of two hunky doctors flirting and discussing their feelings. You really don’t want to hear a doctor talking about his issues with commitment just as the drugs take hold. Plot-wise, the conversations in Grey’s Anatomy resemble those on Love Island, except the protagonists are wearing white coats instead of small pants and they occasionally cut people open as they chat.

At this stage, many of Meredith Grey’s love interests have come and gone. The famed Dr McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey) was replaced by Prof Gorgeous O’Hunky, who was replaced in turn by Captain John P SexDoctor (Giacomo Giannotti). These may not be the characters’ actual names. My point is, this is a hospital largely peopled by hunks and I would be very nervous about my wife going to such a place, preferring to suggest, instead, hospitals with no pictures on their websites and a strict “no riding” policy.

It's not surprising, really, that Meredith Grey enters the 16th season of Grey's Anatomy in danger of being struck off as a doctor and having to engage in community service for the crimes she has committed. (Okay, the creator of this show is the excellent, left-leaning Shonda Rhimes and so Meredith's crimes are caring for an uninsured cancer sufferer.) She is not the only character here who would probably face serious censure in the modern workplace. There is a hilarious misunderstanding, for example, where Dr Shepherd interprets her gynaecologist's veiled suggestions that Shepherd might be pregnant as sexual interest and so, understandably, invites her for a threesome. HR do not become involved. That's because this is, as I've suggested already, a terrible hospital.

Dr Owen accidentally defibrillates the testicles of his boss and sexual rival, Dr Tom

Then, in the second episode of the series, in a nod to something that should probably happen more often on this show, Kevin McKidd’s Dr Owen (Field-Marshal Struts Von Rideypants) accidentally defibrillates the testicles of his boss and sexual rival, Dr Tom (the Hunkmaster General). Dr Owen is not sued for malpractice, because there is no time to spare when there are sexy lives to save in this Carry-On-style sex hospital.

The previous season of Grey’s Anatomy literally ended on a cliffhanger, with one character dangling her unconscious partner on a rope over the edge of a cliff. But all loose ends are quickly dispatched in the first episode of the new season via a conceit that sees the legend “one week later” appear onscreen every 10 minutes, and we flit through plot points and medical emergencies that would take a lesser show half a season to complete. And so, by the end of that episode we are ready for an all-new, slightly shorter 16th season. Say what you like about Shonda Rhimes, but she’s formalistically efficient. There’s even a reference to antibiotic-resistant superbugs in the second episode, suggesting her fictional hunks were better prepared than the Trump administration.

Similarly underappreciated

Ridonkulous as Grey's Anatomy is, it's deftly written and consistently entertaining in ways that many more critically lauded shows fail to be. The same goes for the slightly grimier but similarly underappreciated Casualty (BBC1, Saturday). On Saturday's episode Noel, an overwhelmed receptionist, becomes a lifeline for a vulnerable teenager in ways that, I'm pretty sure, real frontline staff experience all the time. With all the acclaim fired at ready-to-stream prestige television, let's not to forget the televisual toilers entertaining us week in and week out with tautly scripted, episodic television. Tonight, let us all offer a celebratory clap to the fictional telly doctors. Not that kind of clap, McDreamy!

(Full disclosure: I paraphrased/stole that last joke from Jennifer O’Connell).

For more of the aforementioned prestige telly, I recommend The Eddy, a Treme-style multilingual drama about Paris-based jazz musicians, now on Netflix. It's filled with hand-held tracking shots and live musical performances, all from Damian Chazelle, the director of La La Land. Like Lenny Abrahamson and Sally Rooney's painful love story Normal People (RTÉ One, Tuesday) or Alex Garland's existentially troubling Devs (finishing this week on BBC Two), this is a show where feelings resonate out from taciturn but expressive actors and beautiful cinematography and aren't disambiguated by neat dialogue or expository musical cues. It makes for evocative, unpredictable, emotional drama. Not that there's anything wrong with the more formulaic and sentimental kind. Sometimes that's exactly what the doctor ordered.