There are a few rules that govern which "Grey's Anatomy" stories will work and which won't. The stories about friendship are often more affecting than the stories about romance, for one. But this episode brought up another: The stories cut with comedy almost always work better than the stories that are weepy and serious throughout.
The best story this week was also the funniest, as Bailey prepared for her third date with Ben the Cute Anesthesiologist. Anticipating that he would anticipate third-date sex, Bailey got a pep talk from Callie, and Callie threw in a recommendation for a Ukranian bikini waxer.
While "Grey's" can be overly enamored of its sex jokes, Chandra Wilson made it funny instead of vulgar. When Bailey ultimately declined, saying her "surgical field" did not need to resemble that of a child, it was enough to make any salon-resistant woman cheer. And because her nervousness had been treated lightly, when she finally had her date with Ben, it didn't play as a cautionary PSA about responsible sex choices.
Similarly, the surprising — and surprisingly effective — story in which Mark Sloan decided to ask Teddy out in an ongoing effort to behave more like a mature person and less like a weasel started with a series of comedic misfires. He tried to ask Teddy out; Arizona encouraged Teddy to accept the free uncomplicated sex; Teddy treated the invitation thusly; Mark took offense.
Later, he sarcastically snarled that he really appreciated being treated as a "male escort." Later, though, he tried again, telling her that he actually did want to get to know her for more time than it would take to remove her clothes, and they agreed to lunch. This news led Lexie to break down in the ladies' room because for all her insistence that she just wants to have NC-17 adventures with Alex in the supply closet, she was devastated to see Mark move on.
Similarly, Arizona treated a boy who had a ruptured cyst on his liver. His divorced parents spent the entire episode with the father blaming the mother for his injuries. The boy recovered, but Arizona breezily told a shocked Callie that this is why she never, ever wants to have kids. Putting aside how hard it is to believe Callie and Arizona could have reached this stage in their relationship without this ever having come up before, the only reason the final scene resonated at all was that until then, there was no reason for the glum liver-cyst story to exist.
The show's ostensible A-plot concerned a patient who needed tricky surgery, with the opportunity to operate contested by Owen and the ex-chief, Richard Webber. While this set up some of the wacky competitive-surgeons comedy that "Grey's" has always done, it was dissonant — as it always is — to have everybody playing ego games when the terminally ill patient just wants to live long enough to see her daughter's wedding.
It appeared that the surgery was ultimately successful (Owen and Richard cooperated, predictably enough), but the story never clicked, partly because its only moments of lightheartedness were at the expense of the patient.
Humor is good, and on this show it's essential, but you need a target other than the lady who's in the process of dying. Bikini waxes will do.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Washington, D.C.