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`Grey's' physicians practice medicine

February 10, 2007|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

So before we begin, let's just ask: Did anyone else wonder why the opening of Thursday night's "Grey's Anatomy," in which Meredith, overcome by her mother's condition and the weight of a thousand voice-overs, sinks under water in a wide, white claw-foot tub, would go out of its way to invoke the poster for the Harrison Ford/Michelle Pfeiffer thriller "What Lies Beneath"?

Thursday night was the first of a three-part " 'Grey's' event," though it began in the traditional way -- Meredith moping, Izzie moping (it is so hard to be lovely and rich), Cristina ordering Burke not to tell anyone of their relationship, oh wait, engagement. But it swiftly became "very special." News of a "multiple casualty" accident was announced (though no one knew what it was 'til they got there because apparently the city's leading hospital cannot afford a television and no one bothers with the Internet) and all our favorite interns were dispatched into the field.

It was an admirable challenge for the writers and cameramen. Traditionally, ABC's "Grey's" puts medicine secondary to the character's relationships, relying on a lot of big emotional close-ups and striding-down-the-hall scenes, emphasizing feeling rather than doing. (Patients, unless they are related to or romantically involved with the leads, tend to disappear after one episode -- whatever happened to those conjoined twins? Surely they need some follow-up.)

But those conventions will not work when sending our friends into a truly horrifying situation. Instead we get the big casualty camera pan, like the train track scene in "Gone With the Wind," revealing the sea of Confederate wounded. Snappy dialogue doesn't play when you are examining the corpse of a child and only McDreamy can talk about his relationship while doing triage and make it stick. (Memo to Isaiah Washington: This is why you weren't cast as the romantic lead. Patrick Dempsey is Patrick Dempsey and you aren't.) Hey, we remember suddenly, these guys are doctors and actually have to deal with life and death and gruesome injuries All The Time.

For the Avid Viewer, it was all a little jarring, though in a good way. In a way that lets us know the writing staff is not content with just a very good nighttime soap, but an examination of various personalities under various situations of real-life stress.

Still, it was difficult to watch any show in which several children were killed and a pregnant woman was terribly injured. Medical dramas walk a fine line between compelling and ghastly -- with its mostly upbeat, witty tone, "Grey's" has managed to stay on the fun side.

On the other hand, it was a relief to see that Meredith had not spent so much time obsessing about her boyfriends and her mother and her friends that she neglected to learn the skills of her profession -- before getting pushed off the dock into real water (as opposed to the bath, which was foreshadowing, get it?) so we have a real emotional cliffhanger. Can Meredith not swim? Did she bang her head on the way down? How long can a person last under water? Will McDreamy save her? So much more soothing to think about than the body count.

Because this is still "Grey's Anatomy," after all.

Show Tracker is a new column that follows television series through their highs and lows.

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