In the Season Two finale of The West Wing, President Bartlet is overcome by memories of his late secretary, Mrs. Landingham, as her funeral approaches. As he ponders his political future amid scandal, he has a vision of Mrs. Landingham in the Oval Office, advising him to run for reelection. With her encouragement, and Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits serving as the soundtrack, Bartlet summons the courage to seek a second term.
The reason I mention this episode - one of, if not the best in recent television history - is that it marks the first and only time a vision of the dead has been credible enough to serve a higher purpose on an Emmy-winning drama. Without flawless directorial execution, writing and acting, such a stunt reeks of shark jumping.
Which brings us to last Thursday's episode of Grey's Anatomy.
Dr. Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) is struggling to move on from - and haunted by recurring visions of - her late fiance, Denny Duquette (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). That he died in Season Two and we are now in Season Five is beside the absurd point.
Despite a rekindled romance with one-time quasi-boyfriend Dr. Alex Karev (Justin Chambers), Izzie just can't shake visions of Denny. What may have been a compelling story for one scene is being dragged on for weeks (with the end nowhere in sight - Morgan is signed on for at least five episodes) and bordering on ridiculous.
One theory is this: Heigl wants off the show, or might before long. The writers are giving Izzie a brain tumor that may ultimately kill her or be cured, depending on Katherine's contract status and whether the outspoken actress turns into an on-set malcontent.
Another theory (one supported by two seasons of uneven mediocrity) is this: Grey's Anatomy has simply run out of ideas.
It's as if Shonda Rhimes was an unhealthy crush on Jeffrey Dean Morgan, or just pens the first thing that pops into her head without thinking it through. Morgan's a good actor and a certified hunk - and he and Heigl definitely had chemistry... in Season Two. It was a great story line. Why not let it die (har har) and continue Izzie's character evolution?
This isn't a soap opera. It's one thing for admittedly ridiculous series such as Days of Our Lives to suspend reality and feature ghosts from time to time. On such daytime programs, it's customary to kill people off and bring them back from the dead pretty much whenever the producers feel like it.
But a prime-time series - not to mention one renowned for its depiction of realistic, flawed characters and relationships?
How can the producers and writers of Grey's Anatomy take even a little bit of pride in their work at this point? In the first few seasons, we fell in love with a group of imperfect, but all-too-human and relatable interns struggling with their complex personal and professional lives. Now we have a plot line in which one of the main characters communicates with a ghost - while her living boyfriend stands there for 30 seconds and watches, no less! While saying nothing!
If all we're going to get are cheesy lines, fake tears and relationships we can't possibly take seriously, we might as well stick to watching The Bachelor. At least that knows what it is and doesn't try to be something else, and is probably more entertaining.
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