Review: Netflix-bound Shondaland has a parting gift for ABC: the ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ spinoff ‘Station 19'
“Grey’s Anatomy,” which was born way back in the first term of the Bush (II) administration, has had a baby, which it has named “Station 19.”
The new offspring will be introduced to the world Thursday on ABC, in that programming playground called Shondaland, though with executive producer Shonda Rhimes taking future business to Netflix, it represents something of a parting gift to her old broadcast home. (And to fans without a Netflix subscription.)
Unlike “Private Practice,” an earlier child of “Grey’s” that lived from 2007 to 2013, “Station 19” has not followed its parent into medicine, opting instead for a career in firefighting, and all the other things firefighters do. But the family resemblance is nevertheless clear.
Created by longtime “Grey’s” writer and producer Stacy McKee, the drama is another story of Strong Women and Hot Men in Life-and-Death Situations, featuring characters of many colors and a soundtrack in which every major emotional moment is underscored by a pop song, as wine might be paired with an appetizer, an entree, a dessert.
Ben Warren (Jason George) is the character who connects “Station 19" to “Grey’s Anatomy,” a surgeon who has become a firefighter, as Michael Jordan once traded basketball for baseball. (Accepting his rookie status is Ben’s half-humorous challenge here.) It appears that groundwork for this career change has been laid throughout the current season. Chandra Wilson, who plays Ben’s wife Miranda Bailey, and Ellen Pompeo, the eponymous Meredith Grey, make cameos in the “Station 19" opener, casting their light upon the newborn.
The figure at the center of “Station 19" is not Ben, however, but Andy Herrera (Jaina Lee Ortiz), whom regular “Grey’s” viewers will have already met in the March 1 backdoor pilot episode, “You Really Got a Hold on Me.” Andy is a strong woman — “baby Rambo,” to her father (Miguel Sandoval), who is also her captain at the firehouse, and called more than once a “badass,” our age’s great compliment.
But Andy has not fully embraced her own toughness, being for the series’ opening moments more than a little defined and distracted by the dudes around her. There is her father, whose nutrition she attempts to oversee and whose paperwork she handles, and his lieutenant, Jack Gibson (Grey Damon), with whom she gets frisky in the locker room. There is also, just to complicate matters, old boyfriend and neighbor Ryan Tanner (Alberto Frezza), a policeman who seems to be wherever the fire crew goes.
“Embrace the pain,” advises Andy’s best friend and fellow firefighter Maya Bishop (Danielle Savre), who is also a former Olympic runner. “Find your medal and go after it.”
Finally, Andy encounters an instructive metaphor in the shape of a woman stuck in a narrow space between two buildings. “You know how when you’re drunk, stupid happens?” asks the woman. “I do,” replies Andy, who has just done something stupid, while maybe a little drunk.
“Take a deep breath. And then another. You just have to decide that you can do this, you can figure this out... Trust me, trust yourself… Relax, and let go.” Is Andy talking to herself, even as she is talking to this woman, in an episode titled “Stuck”?
Though I expect there has been technical vetting, making sure that fires behave as fires do, very little in “Station 19" has the flavor of authenticity. I’m pretty sure that job succession in the Seattle Fire Department, a major plot point, is not as pictured here; and a scene in which Andy Takes Charge, though it turns out all right, strikes me as poor leadership — we can talk about it once you’ve watched.
Like other Rhimes productions, the show is very much a work of capital-T Television, a turbocharged melodrama in which twists and surprises transpire with comforting predictability. When a woman pulled from a burning building says that Charlie is still in the house, there is no doubt that Charlie will turn out to be a dog. (And pan to the tag reading “Charlie,” to leave no viewer behind.)
At the same time, Rhimes’ series feel “real,” and relatable, however absurd they may become, because they are packed with intense emotions — and many people do feel packed with intense emotions. Like big pop ballads in which everything matters terribly, these shows give shape to yearning.
Indeed, when we get to Andy’s “what have we learned” closing voice-over, the words might be the lyrics to just the sort of songs that have filled the soundtrack: “The trick is to breathe in / And loosen your grip / You can’t overthink it / Got to grab on / Take the next step / Trust yourself / And let go.”
If those words fill you with feeling, you might be happy here.
When: 9 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sexual content and violence)
Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd
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