Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Grey’s Anatomy : Song beneath the Song

(as published on Mylaw.net)

One thing you’ve got to say for Grey’s Anatomy : it doesn’t lack ambition. By the time most shows hit their seventh season, they’re running on fumes, going through the motions, limping to the finish line. And yet, this here is the season where the show has experimented with a documentary format, given us a 24-style real-time episode, and now, with Song beneath a Song, taken a hop, sing and audacious jump into musical territory.

First things first - no, this experiment isn’t entirely successful, There is something oddly jarring about the way the music is incorporated into the proceedings, and the song selections themselves can be annoyingly literal. Paradoxically though, those song choices are also what the epsiode should be lauded for : instead of going into uncharacteristic Broadway territory or manufacturing original tunes, the showrunners go with the interesting decision of utilizing the indie songs that Grey’s popularized in the first place. Snow Patrol, The Fray, Kate Havenik - they all jump out of the background and into the mouths of the Seattle Grace doctors. Again, I say “interesting” only, because the problem simply is that a lot of these songs worked better as subtext, faint underlines to a scene, as opposed to coming forward as the focal point and calling attention to themselves.

Any which way, if you’ve fallen off the Grey’s bandwagon (!) or were never really on to begin with (!!) here’s the gig : we’re dealing with a hospital drama, where patients’ various afflictions often play out as metaphors to our doctors’ increasingly tangled love lifes. At the start of this particular episode, late in the seventh season, lesbian couple Arizona and Callie’s marriage proposal is rudely interrupted by their car crashing into a truck, sending unbuckled Callie hurtling through the windscreen. The near comatose state of Callie then serves as the catalyst for the musical portions of the episode : in her out-of-body experience, characters externalize their thoughts into song. My favourite musical moment of the episode plays out in the opening scene, with a smart nod to the show’s old theme song -

Nobody knows where they might wake up

- sings out-of-body Callie to her bleeding broken version. As a longtime fan, I nodded vigorously in approval.

Also earning my hearty approval was the first full blown musical number, a wonderful arrangement of Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars : as Callie is rushed through Seattle Grace’s corridors, her ethereal self starts the song, to be joined in by other characters in the second and third verse, a great slow build of emotional intensity. Sara Ramirez highlight’s Callie’s anguish beautifully here, even as the lyrics of the song lend them self to generous re-interpretation given the scene.

Then, sadly, it all goes downhill. As the episode continued, I find something happening which is very rare an occurrence when I’m watching either a musical or a Grey’s Anatomy episode : I got bored. Like I mentioned above, try as you might, the kind of indie music the show uses so well works as a great background score. That very music underwhelms when its brought to the fore, aggravated by a series of not-very-smart musical choices. One of the biggest offenders is Gomez’s How we Operate, amongst the more painfully literate and cringe-worthy song choices that shoehorns its way into the proceedings during a meeting to, well, decide how the doctors will infact operate. Kate Havenik’s beautiful Grace becomes simply creepy when its sung by ethereal Callie sitting on TOP of comatose Callie as she’s rushed towards the operating room for the final time. It goes on.

SO , yes, this episode isn’t a complete success. That said, it redeems itself quite a bit by the dual power jolt of performances in the final ten minutes. First, we get a rousing performance of Fray’s How to Save a Life, which really needs to become the show’s new theme song. As the crew of Seattle Grace rally together in the operating room locked in that last battle to save Callie, the song gets the ensemble treatment with one doctor after another joining in, the verses slowly building up, punctuated by the appropriate gravitas, until in the final power chord (spoiler alert !), not one, but two lives are saved. Then, in the closing moments of the episode, Sara Ramirez knocks it out of the park with “The Story” by Brandi Carlile - the one true pop song in the mix that really makes use of her wonderful vocal range. She strides through the corridors of the hospital, giving you goosebumps with a Broadway-caliber performance, and you sigh, thinking of what could’ve been.

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