Lessons in the OR and via voice-over
And so we arrive at the show that manages to combine “Sex and the City,” “CSI,” “ER” and “The Paper Chase,” wrapped in the kind of alt-rock soundtrack that beckons near the register at Pottery Barn.
It’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” and don’t let the Carrie Bradshaw voice-overs and that impish grin of Patrick Dempsey’s fool you too much -- this is a show about newbie surgical interns getting their scrubs bloody and their psyches bruised as they navigate their initial, grueling, sleepless-in-Seattle months in the operating rooms of a well-appointed city hospital.
But first, some selections from the “Grey’s Anatomy” voice-overs of wisdom.
“Once in a while, if you’re smart, a life you save could be your own.”
“Intimacy is a four-syllable word for, ‘Here are my heart and soul. Please grind them into hamburger and enjoy.’ ”
That’s intern-protagonist Meredith Grey (the Renee Zellweger-ish Ellen Pompeo), talking either to me or her diary (I’d like to think it’s both of us). Her mother, a former star surgeon at Seattle Grace Hospital, is now in an Alzheimer’s care facility. The guy she’s just picked up at a bar and slept with happens to be Dr. Derek Shepherd (Dempsey), a young surgeon under whom she has to work. And work is not just work, it’s “The Game,” the first unnerving 48 hours of a seven-year residency that will make or break futures.
“Look around you. Say hello to your competition,” Dr. Richard Webber (James Pickens Jr.) tells Meredith and her fellow interns, sounding like the host on the premiere episode of a reality show. “Eight of you will switch to an easier specialty, five of you will crack under the pressure. Two of you will be asked to leave.”
“Grey’s Anatomy” goes for it all -- light comedy, romance, heart-quickening drama, twentysomething melancholia. ABC is premiering the series Sunday after “Desperate Housewives,” which should give it a bounce, and it arrives at the end of a week in which the Terry Schiavo case has gotten people thinking about feeding tubes and living wills and the gray areas of life and death.
“Grey’s Anatomy” is about this too; its young surgeons are constantly thrust into situations in which their medical school know-how is no longer a guide. On the show, all the interns want to get into the operating room for their first real procedures, only to discover that it’s the other stuff too, the people stuff, that will make them doctors.
Cristina is the most covetous of getting into the OR, and as played by Sandra Oh (“Sideways”), the character is almost maniacally competitive, even as she keeps getting thwarted in her efforts for first-hand surgical experience. Oh doesn’t overplay this, and she’s so darkly alive in the role I found myself wanting the show to be about her character, not Meredith, whose life might be something of a mess but whose virtue is basically never out of whack. It’s Meredith who, at the end of the pilot, gets to be in on a brain operation with her paramour Dr. Shepherd, but it’s Oh’s conflicted envy more than Meredith’s conflicted triumph that you feel.
But of course the show has to be most concerned with the pretty white people, even if Asians continue to be underrepresented on medical dramas, and even if “Grey’s Anatomy” is created by an African American woman, Shonda Rhimes.
The series, ultimately, is its own kind of surgery, stitched together from recent hits. But if it doesn’t have a unique voice, it does manage to present affecting medical scenarios and a vicarious sense of the pressures the interns face. In Meredith’s mother’s Alzheimer’s, the show also takes on a younger generation’s elder-care problems, which has not been explored much on series TV.
It’s promising material, even if you rarely get to experience it without the sudden intrusion of a Counting Crows-like dirge or the strange sensation that Sarah Jessica Parker is wondering, in voice-over, whether she has what it takes to be a brain surgeon.
When: 10 p.m. Sunday
Ratings: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)
Ellen Pompeo...Meredith Grey
Patrick Dempsey...Derek Shepherd
James Pickens Jr....Richard Webber
T.R. Knight...George O’Malley
Sandra Oh...Cristina Yang
Katherine Heigl...Isobel “Izzie” Stevens
Chandra Wilson...Miranda Bailey
Isaiah Washington...Preston Burke
Justin Chambers...Alex Karev
Executive producer Shonda Rhimes, Mark Gordon, Betsy Beers and Jim Parriott. Creator and writer Shonda Rhimes. Director Peter Horton.