After sending a text message to a family member to convince her to start watching Grey’s Anatomy, my partner and I decided we should revisit the pilot episode of the show ourselves to see how it held up.
Whaddaya know? It really, really does.
I can vividly remember the night in March 2005 when I first watched Meredith Grey wake up next to Derek Shepard on the morning of her first day of work at Seattle Grace Hospital. That season ABC had already successfully launched Lost and Desperate Housewives, and the trailer for the new medical drama looked sexy and intriguing. (Grey’s actually aired in Desperate Housewives‘ Sunday timeslot for its premiere episode.) It doesn’t always happen when watching a new series, but from Meredith’s first voice over, I instantly fell in love with the show.
Re-watching the pilot episode, I can see why. It’s rare that a show knows exactly what it is and what it wants to be right from the beginning. Many of the pieces that have made the show (mostly) great for the past nine years were present in that episode: the chemistry between Ellen Pompeo and an almost unbelievably cute Patrick Dempsey; the edge of Chandra Wilson’s Miranda Bailey; the unsentimental bond between Meredith and Sandra Oh’s Christina. I’d forgotten how much T.R. Knight’s sweet and insecure George O’Malley added to the dynamic of the show, and how much Justin Chambers’ Alex Karev has grown from the bullying asshole he started out as.
Sure, Katherine Heigl’s Izzie Stevens doesn’t have too much to do in the pilot, and Isaiah Washington’s Preston Burke is a little one-note. And, of course, the layered dynamics that Addison and Callie and Arizona and Mark and Lexie and Owen would bring to the show in later years are not present. But in that first episode, you understood that Meredith was a compassionate but flawed woman, and that this group of young doctors was going to compete with, love and support each other. In other words, what this show was going to be.
When Grey’s Anatomy debuted ER was ten seasons into its run, and House had debuted the previous season. As I wrote last month, Grey’s Anatomy is, unbelievably, the only medical drama currently on the air. The only one. Watching the pilot reminded me, again, how much dramatic fodder there is in a television series about doctors. The pilot succeeds because the stakes of the work feel high, and the characters and their personal situations are well-written enough to match those stakes.
It’s been a while since a pilot has grabbed me in the way Grey’s Anatomy did right from the beginning. With a new group of shows set to debut this fall, here’s hoping one or two new shows will bring back that feeling of possibility.
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