Shondaland

January 19, 2016


Much has been made of the fact that Shonda Rhimes is the undisputed overlord of Network television, show-running three separate hour long drama’s, each broadcast on the same night on ABC, under the moniker #TGIT (thank god it’s Thursday). 

Despite being on the air for 12 years now, Grey’s Anatomy still constantly finishes in the top ten dramas of the year; Scandal regularly wins its time slot, while How To Get Away With Murder-her most recent juggernaut, set the record for DVR playback viewers with 6 million for its pilot. 

Her shows are cast colour blind, often feature one or more LGBT characters, with strong -if troubled, women as their primary focus.

Scandal was the first network TV show with an African-American female lead in almost 40 years.

Viola Davis, star of HTGAWM, became the first African-American actress to win Best Actress in a Drama at the most recent Emmy awards.

While her plot-twists and cliffhangers are like Pop-Eye’s spinach for the twitterati, who go berserk over every decision she makes. Never mind her race, or her gender; this is an astonishing feat for any human being.

But, while her achievements have been dually noted, what seems to have gone unsaid is that the show that started it all has gotten… a little trite. Could it be that Shonda has become so artistically stretched that she has taken the great big juicy ham of her collective narratives and fried them down to pork rinds?

Characters have been offed with such regularity on Grey’s that the character’s have become immune to loss, so that when the shows original matinee star departed, Rhimes jumped the show forward a year so we wouldn’t have to deal with the fallout of his death.

Bigger stars have left quicker than fresher ones can take their place, with the newer interns- who could have been injected as fresh blood, instead used as prophylactics, good for safe, sexy storylines but cast aside, disposable, secondary to the increasingly uninteresting needs of the leads, which prevent them from creating engaging lives for themselves. (Does anyone actually care when Jo has another one of her woe-is-me tantrums, no matter how good Camilla Luddington is at throwing them?)

While Shonda, at first, took her time to create some excellent discussions around women and spouses rights- such as when Owen and Christina broke up over her decision to have an abortion, now the storylines operate to keep social media buzzing, rather than as an exploration of character. Ultimately, despite a well-executed neo-natal death storyline preceding it, the actual break-up of April and Jackson left us cold.

And just look at what she has done to Bailey. My God! Once dubbed the Nazi, for her take no prisoners approach, she’s now become an inefficient whiner, lacking any of the steel and sharpness that made her such a bad ass.

Grey-Sloane has morphed into a maudlin sorority house. Rhimes went from using her characters to challenge sexist stereotypes to simply inverting them. Calie Tores used to be a deep well of conflicting emotions. Now she babbles on about nothing but sex, making puns about how “Grey’s’ has turned into a ‘lady place’. If any of the male characters did anything noteworthy in the past three seasons, beyond dying, I didn’t notice it… and even that was given scant regard.

Her three shows remain among the best acted on TV. That’s why I’ve stuck by them. And they are still capable of twists that bare occasional fruit, like the introduction of Callie’s new lover at a dinner party memorializing the doctor she killed as an intern.

But Shonda should perhaps relinquish the reigns of the show that started it all for her, especially if she wants to get it across the finish line of becoming the longest running medical drama in the history of Network TV. There’s still a lot of meat to be sucked from its bones, but with Shonda’s penchant for taking her grievances with actors out on the story, perhaps the scalpel that carves the narrative should be placed in less flippant, more focused hands.

How to Get Away With Murder, Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal return to Sky Atlantic on October 28th.

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