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TV Review: Grey’s Anatomy – “Song Beneath the Song”

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Surely, reviews about the musical episode of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy will be mixed, as they often are for any type of big risk that isn’t hands down brilliant. Grey’s did a lot of things right. They stuck to the style of music their fans are accustomed to, indeed, using many of the songs made famous by Grey’s promos. They also let their strongly gifted actors sing, while not forcing the entire cast to participate musically. As for complaints, I could see some saying there is too much music. Ten songs are used in the hour, compared to four to six for a normal episode of Glee. But overall, I’m pretty pleased.

The best songs are the crowd pleasers, of course. Big ensemble performances of Jesus Jackson’s “Running on Sunshine” and THE Grey’s anthem, The Fray’s “How to Save a Life”, are a visual and auditory delight. The weakest point, in my opinion, is the very first. I have complained lately of shows jettisoning their theme songs. Grey’s theme, “Cosy In the Rocket”, was abandoned long ago. But the series only teased by letting a few lines of the song be sung just before the title card. This is the perfect opportunity to bring it back, at least for one episode, and instead, they only allow a small taste.

Sara Ramirez, who plays Dr. Callie Torres, is at the center of the episode, as she is badly injured in a car wreck, and the one hallucinating the singing as the staff tries to save the life of her and her unborn child. Ramirez won a Tony for her performance in Spamalot on Broadway, so it is no surprise that she sings in seven of the ten numbers. Her biggest highlight is probably The Story, made famous by Brandi Carlile, where Sara shows her true range and belting capabilities. Plus, the cut shots throughout the song made it look neat.

Other featured players are Kevin McKidd as Dr. Owen Hunt and Chyler Leigh as Dr. Lexie Grey, who both have their own solos, as well as participating in group numbers. Chandra Wilson’s Miranda Bailey and Jessica Capshaw’s Arizona sang in multiple songs, but didn’t have their own. Other actors, like Justin Chambers (Alex Karev), Eric Dane (Mark Sloan), Scott Foley (Henry), and Daniel Sunjata (Eli) only get the briefest of moments, which is more than Sandra Oh or James Pickens Jr. did. Sarah Drew’s April is somewhere in the middle ground, getting to sing in several songs, but never really being featured. But it works out, because if they are bad singers, we don’t want to hear them anyway (I’m looking at you, Alyson Hanigan, whom I adore, but whose “This line’s mostly filler” may have been the most out of tune moment in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode.)

I am left wondering why Kate Walsh’s Addison Montgomery is even brought over for a crossover during this episode. A veteran of The Drew Carey Show, which periodically did big numbers, I expected some sort of singing from her, but am disappointed that she doesn’t appear to sing at all. In fact, she is barely in the hour. I guess she is only here to shake Dr. Lucy Fields’s (Rachael Taylor) confidence in herself as a doctor, which she more than adequately does.

Near the end of the episode, I kept thinking this would be the perfect time to kill off Callie. I’m a fan or Ramirez, so this is merely a musing from a storytelling perspective, not because I want the character gone. Arizona and Mark are at odds, but then make up. Having the two of them raising a child together without their connective tissue would have been interesting. As Arizona is a lesbian, it is unlikely the two of them would have ever made a go romantically, but it would have been a kind of cool story idea. I do wonder, based on next week’s previews, if Callie’s baby will die instead, thus making Arizona and Mark’s budding friendship struggle into fruition on its own, without the aid of a shared child.

It is amusing when shows poke fun at themselves, and acknowledge the unrealistic things that often happen within the confines of the various plot arcs. This week, Alex dubs the hospital “Seattle Grace / Mercy Death,” instead of West, as the last word actually is. This references that a lot of doctors have suffered a lot of tragedy there. Because this is a TV show, and drama is needed to keep it moving along, that is not unexpected. But most real hospitals don’t have such a high rate of serious happenings in their staffs, so it’s nice that the writers let Alex mention it, tongue in cheek.

Is Grey’s heading for a showdown between Teddy (Kim Raver) and Cristina (Sandra Oh)? I think it’s a nice throwback that Cristina pulls outs a Burke procedure to save the day with Callie this week, but it puts her at odds with her mentor. I’m starting to think the hospital isn’t big enough for the both of them. I guess it’s time that one of our interns grows into an attending, and it makes sense that Cristina would reach that pinnacle first, as she has already more than adequately proven herself. But I don’t see two cardiothoracic surgeons peacefully coexisting. I admit, I’m surprised that Teddy is still here. As much as I like Raver from her time on 24, she seems like such a temporary character whose usefulness is past. Perhaps by season’s end, she will ride off into the sunset with Henry or the returning Dr. Andrew Perkins (James Tupper).

Also well handled is the maturation that romance on Grey’s has gone through lately. In the early days, many of the characters simply sleep together to release stress in high pressure situations, or because they are drunk. Nowadays, it seems everyone is involved in an actual relationship. Lexie chooses Jackson (Jesse Williams) this week over Mark, cementing that there is something more to them than just a hookup. Henry is pursuing romance with his wife-for-the-insurance, Teddy, having asked her on a date. Alex and Lucy, as well as Bailey and Eli, have been simmering slow builds, flirting and developing chemistry, not just falling into bed together.

And Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Derek (Patrick Dempsey) are having a real marital issue, struggling to have a child in Meredith’s ‘hostile womb’. It’s such a more serious and interesting challenge than Meredith and Derek’s long dance with on-again, off-again romance. I can’t wait to see them move into their dream house, currently under construction. What a cool new set piece that will be! And I want to see them as parents, the next logical step in their evolution. Who says that long-term monogamy makes for bad dramatic television?

Of course, Arizona, Callie, and Mark may be playing parents much sooner, as Callie’s baby did come out this week. Oftentimes, babies can be a drag on a series. While they provide some fun plots, much of the time they need to be away with some rarely seen babysitter, as they just get in the way of most stories. Yet, somehow Grey’s seems ready for an actual child who fits into the larger scheme of things. We have seen so many characters grow into mature people, and parenthood is a part of a complete life for many couples around the world.

This seventh season has been such a wonderful rebirth of the aging drama. While Grey’s has managed to stay enjoyable most seasons, some story arcs have floundered. The shooting last May re-energized so much, forcing the characters to figure out who they are, and who they want to be. Rather than jumping the shark, it’s kind of forced a move into a whole new series that will have legs for years to come, rather than slowly dying out, which looked like a possible outcome previously. I must give major props all around to everyone involved in this season.

Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursday nights at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

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About JeromeWetzelTV

Jerome writes TV reviews for BlogCritics.org and Seat42F.com, as well as fiction. He is a frequent guest on two podcasts, Let's Talk TV with Barbara Barnett and The Good, the Bad, & the Geeky. All of his work can be found on his website, jeromewetzel.com
  • Harry

    Who dreamed up this horrible “Glee” version.
    I switched channels.

  • http://jeromewetzeltv.blogspot.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    Harry – It wasn’t anything like Glee. I could write pages on the differences, starting first and foremost with the lack of much dancing, as well as the musical style.

  • B

    im watching this now. usually a season final is the best. this is horrible. horrible

  • choleh

    Yeah was pretty bad. Although some of them sung nicely but still…

  • Jenny

    I adored this episode. Sorry. And no, I am not a Glee fan.

  • ellie3

    Really too bad that the haters couldn’t get into the music and really listen to lyrics among the dialogue. It was really quite brilliant how it all really meshed together and related to the storyline along with the camera cues. Just requires that the viewer have some depth and I wish more folks had a little depth. People that fast forwarded through the music missed A LOT of what was punctuating the story. I thought it was great. Whether you loved it or hated it, it jump-started the show and at the very least created some new opportunities for some new rising stars. Kudos! Had the same story been told without the music, it would not have had the same emotional impact and folks would have thought the creators were just recycling old, dramatic storyline…a beloved character is going down hard and it’s all hands on deck to save him/her. It’s been done to death. This was the twist it needed and I applaud the creators for going for it. It was really great.

  • http://jeromewetzeltv.blogspot.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    I am confused by the negative reactions. It’s not like Grey’s brought in songs that were different from what you hear every week on the show. They stuck to their very specific genre. Some people just don’t like singing in their shows, I guess. Personally, I love it, and while this is not the best musical episode of a show ever made (see: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Scrubs), it was highly enjoyable.

  • tim b

    Shonda Rhimes, you must be to busy with all the spin off and new show but get ur mothership back in order please!!! this show is not what it was as much as i love it, get it together… what is this crap??
    One of the Writers along with one of the Producers and One of the Studio and Network Exec need to be fired for that B.S yall put out on thrus…
    Grey’s used to be a Great show and what you all have been doing to it over the years, minus that Great ending last year has been horrible..

  • Sam

    Awful. Truly Awful.

    Nice Songs though.

  • adam k

    I am so unbelievable disappointed with whoever chose to create a musical type of feel on the normally well written and well acted show. Absolutely awful idea, in my opinion things like that should be left with Glee. Considering the immense success of Grey’s Anatomy I struggle to understand why they feel the need to create episodes like this one and the documentary-style episode earlier on in the season. I could not even finish the episode as it is just truly awful!

  • Erin

    I think it would have been better if they just finished up the ending (when she woke up) with a song, instead of having the songs throughout. It was a bit too much for my taste, but I do like that they stuck with the genre.

  • Querent

    This show was a pure triumph for Shondra Rimes vision of what drama is. Shondra knows that the music IS the drama. She has used this understanding brilliantly in the past to reach the viewers’ emotions by allowing music to control the pacing and the emphasis of Grey’s, but this time she actually allowed the actors in the show to do the singing, and they did it extremely well. I am greatly impressed by the artistic achievement of the producers and the actors of Grey’s, one of the all time best TV series, and my personal favorite. Great work!

  • Cindy

    I loved this episode! It is really neat seeing another side of actors’ and actresses’ talents. Sara Ramirez really can belt it out! I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I still managed to feel the emotions being portrayed. I also liked this article, and agreed with many of the mentioned ideas (Callie dying, leaving Arizona and Mark to pick up the pieces) but I am glad that did not happen; Callie is one of my favorite characters. Can’t wait to see what happens next!

  • http://jeromewetzeltv.blogspot.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    Thank you all for the excellent comments. I think what I liked best about this episode is that it took a big risk. Obviously, not all of you agree that the risk paid off, but at least the show tried something new. House is another series that does different things every so often. I applaud them for any attempt at new ideas, because it helps the show stay fresh, and sets it apart from many other dramas.

  • Salome

    I’m a massive fan of Grey’s.

    Now I’m also a huge fan of Buffy and Scrubs. All series which have had a musical episode.

    Now the buffy episode was amazing, the music worked throughout and it didnt detract from the drama of the episode. It was simply one of the best episodes in the whole 7 seasons of buffy. It made perfect sense within the confines of the plot and it carried the audience along the narrative of the plot.

    Scrubs too did a musical episode (based again on a brain trauma to one of the patients), so once again Grey’s ripped off a Scrubs idea, but I don’t mind that as I love both series for what they offer individually. The music worked in scrubs because it makes ample use of flight of fancy flashes, thus the audience simply wasn’t surprised by the surreal element of it and could happily enjoy the songs.

    Now Grey’s unfortunately is a whole different kettle of fish. First may I say the songs were excellent (well except for meredith who couldn’t hit a note if it was 4 stories tall and had a painted target on it). Callie really showed off her singing skills and alot of the songs I would have happily downloaded.

    However the whole episode simply didn’t work. Sure the songs were good, but the singing drew away from the drama. Grey’s works upon the premise of it being faux-sciency with a compelling dialogue and sassy humour. All of a sudden putting singing into the story, distances people from what they expect from greys and breaks the drama. I wouldn’t want people in ER to all of a sudden start singing or NYPD Blue either. It just simply makes no sense within the confines of this kind of drama. Further to that the way the songs were done detracted from a plot which would have been very interesting and compelling. I would have loved the episode if the cast songs were just played as a backing soundtrack, like they normally are. However having everyone singing behind face masks was awful looking. The whole premise killed the drama and I really hope grey’s stops attempting to be “experimental”.

    I didn’t like the 1 hour news report episode and I don’t like this one either, it simply isn’t what I loved about grey’s.

    To be honest grey’s used to have compelling storylines and great humour throughout. I’ve noticed over the past few seasons that their are much less “laugh out loud” moments than their used to be. Also the personal relationships of the doctors have vastly taken over from the ongoing drama’s of the patients, which used to be more evenly split.

    Please Shonda, reclaim the humour that made grey’s what it was and start including more focus on patients again (as i need some balance to the stories about who’s jumping on who)!!!

  • CraigW

    I was surprised, I had not idea that Sara Ramirez was so amazing with her voice. The episode was progressive and I enjoyed it so very much!

  • Love this show

    Love this episode………………

  • oscar

    oh man ! she’s dying and everybody’s singing? what the f*** is this?

  • Brandon Yates

    absolutley couldnt watch this crap. truly truly awful. loved every other episode but this is pure crap.

  • Tristan

    it will be interesting how the show will deal with no mcdreamy,
    here is a funny joke I saw about Grey’s Anatomy.

  • andrea mullen

    I LOVED this episode. After the shooting episode, the miscarrige, the Yang drama, it was nice to see a new type of drama. You still got the same old Grey’s drama, just in a new way that made me want to watch again. Ive now seen it 5 times in a row, and i love it. It just makes you see a new side of the drama you come to expect from Greys, without getting repetetive. Those who didnt enjoy have a right, but it was nice to see something different, yet not really different. Hope they do another musical episode in the future.

  • adam

    This was interesting and a little weird but in the artist sense. the show,shonda rhimes,being the artist. Thats cool to take a chance like that. Forget about glee already people. haha. This is a better show. And worthy of taking a chance. the beatles, Bowie etc all chance takers and contraversial. Need i say more?

  • http://perfect-imperfection-s.tumblr.com/ Marianne

    I loved this episode it is one of my favorites and I hate Glee. :) Sara Ramirez should be a singer she has an amazing voice.

  • http://jeromewetzeltv.blogspot.com/ Jerome Wetzel

    Marianne – Ramirez IS a singer. She was the Lady of the Lake in Spamalot on Broadway!

  • Mohammed

    This is undoubtedly the best Grey’s Anatomy episode. I think the singing wasn’t perfect obviously, but I think the message and the drama was put across in an expertly artistic fashion with the lyrics of the musical numbers. Bravo Shonda Rhimes, I’ve been watching the episode over and over again!!!