All right, everybody, take your seats. I hereby call to order this meeting of the “Dudes Who Watch “Grey's Anatomy” support group. Grab some beer and pretzels and settle in.
Hold up — guys watching “Grey’s”? Shouldn’t we be using our barely opposable thumbs to flip between “The Sopranos,” “24” and hockey? Nope. If you think “Grey’s” is only for the ladies, you’re even more wrong than Izzie and George’s drunken hook-up. Believe it or not, more than 6.4 million men tune in each week. That’s more people — men and women combined— than watch just about anything on the CW.
But bring it up at softball practice, and watch the men scramble for cover. Because of “Grey’s Anatomy’s” overwhelmingly — and, frankly, undeserved — feminine reputation, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guy who’ll admit to tuning in. So I’ll go first.
I’m a latecomer to the “Grey’s” phenomenon. When it first aired as a midseason replacement in 2005, a talky nighttime soap about relationships and vagina monologues was the last thing I wanted to watch. “Desperate Housewives” in scrubs? Uh, no thank you. I preferred to spend my time watching far more manly programs — like Strawberry Shortcake cartoons or “The View.”
But eventually, “Grey’s” wore me down, just like it did thousands of other men who came for the behind-the-scenes drama playing out in the press and stayed for the well-written characters, edge-of-your-seat drama and hooky plots. I came to see what all the Isaiah Washington hubbub was about, and now I’m catching up on old episodes on the first-season DVD and reruns on Lifetime.
Let’s get something straight: As much as it’s developed a reputation as a show with the highest estrogen levels since “Guiding Light,” “Grey’s Anatomy” has plenty to appeal to the more testosteroney among us. Ostensibly a high-pressure workplace drama, “Grey’s” follows whiney intern Meredith Grey and her co-workers at Seattle Grace Hospital as they cut people open and sleep together. Based on the concept alone, it’s girlier than a puppy wearing a pink dress and a bow in its hair. But the gender-bridging appeal of “Grey’s” lies in its execution.
Hardly the weepy melodrama you might expect; “Grey’s” is fast-paced and easy to digest, filled with clever quips, zippy plots and enough activity to appeal to even the shortest attention span.
But to those who complain that “Grey’s” is turning into an “ER” clone and falling into outlandish-crisis-of-the-week mode: it just ain’t so. Those elements have been there from the beginning. On her second day on the job, Meredith walked around with a bitten-off male member in a cooler. And it’s only gotten more intriguing from there. Since then, “Grey’s Anatomy” has featured exploding bomb-squaders, toxic cancer patients, and record-breaking tumors.
The recent ferry-boat-accident three-parter did smell a little like an average Thursday night over on NBC, but “Grey’s” more often than not transcends its doctor-drama structure. Like network-mate “Lost,” “Grey’s” spills enough blood, weaves enough spider-webby connections and spins creative enough yarns to keep the “average guy” coming back for more.
And like “Lost,” what “Grey’s” has been able to do — far more successfully than “ER” — is build characters the audience cares about, so much so that the drama and explosions take a backseat to personality-driven plots.
Izzie’s devastation over the death of Denny continues to resonate. The damaged best-friendship between Shepherd and Sloan is settling into an uneasy truce. Karev continues his slow — and credible — transition from superficial plastic-surgeon wannabe to aspiring fetal specialist.
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And George’s dad — is there a more “male” plot point than dealing with the illness and death of a father? “Grey’s” handled it with subtlety and a just-right mix of humor and emotion. This is the story line that hooked me, but there are plenty more traditionally “male” issues sutured into the fabric of the show. Parent issues, relationship ups and downs, struggles to compete at work. They’re issues important to both genders. Human. Just like the characters on the show.
Male or female, viewers seem to agree that Meredith can be awfully annoying. But even if you think the sound of her voice is like a scalpel scraping across bone, there are plenty of other characters to focus on. Nicknamed “The Nazi,” surgical resident Miranda Bailey struggles to balance parenthood with life at the hospital. Cardiothoracic surgeon Preston Burke deals with the emotional and professional ramifications of getting shot. Heck, driven intern Cristina Yang is more or less a stereotypical man, saddled with career-only blinders and relationship phobias. Despite — or maybe because of — all their faults, the doctors at Seattle Grace are people you want to spend time with. Or at least check in on from time to time.
Insights into a woman's point of view
Is the fact that the show is written from a predominantly female point of view emasculating? Hardly. In fact, I’d contend that I’m a better-prepared man now that I’ve got a weekly window into the female psyche. Just as peeking over your girlfriend’s shoulder to read an article in “Cosmo” about “10 Things Women Dig About Dudes” can (kind of) improve your love life, absorbing an hour a week of female-focused drama can impart much in the mysterious ways of the fairer sex. If you’ve got a lick of empathy coursing through your manly-man veins, you’ll quickly discover that “Grey’s” is not the all-feminine-hygiene-products-all-the-time show you’d assumed it would be.
Granted, it does degrade into an hour-long chick flick on occasion. What could have been a knock-down, drag-out rumble in the woods between sensitive George and arrogant Karev turned into a literal slap fight. Explained away as a reason not to injure their delicate surgeon hands, it was pretty obvious that show creator Shonda Rhimes and her team gleefully wanted to write a scene with toned and tightened dudes flitting at each other like Laverne and Shirley.
And, of course, who’s sleeping with whom continues to be just as important as who gets to scrub in on the latest freaky surgery. McDreamy and Meredith. Meredith and George. George and Izzie. Izzie and Karev. The sex train keeps rolling on. All aboard!
Plus, it’s got hot chicks. The producers give as much time to the female form as they do to shirtless McDreamy and McSteamy, leaving viewers of both sexes to ponder the same question: With their 70-hour-a-week jobs and roller-coaster personal lives, how do these doctors find time to get to the gym?
If all that wasn’t enough to get you to tune in, no less a man’s man than former president Bill Clinton has recently expressed his devotion to “Grey’s,” declaring it his favorite show. If it’s a “male enough” show for a guy who risked the leadership of the free world to spend a little time with the ladies, it’s male enough for me.
Brian Bellmont is a writer in Minneapolis.
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