I used to think watching TV was an excuse for people to be unproductive. I saw it as a black hole, sucking people in against their will. And then I started “Grey’s Anatomy.” I was a junior in high school, with no time to spare — but there I was, watching the TV show that my mom rushed my brothers and me to bed most of our childhood Thursday nights to watch.
Without fail, every time I encounter a skeptic of the franchise, I hear a string of the same comments: “That show is so old.” “Fifteen years is way too long for a medical drama, it needs to just end already.” “It’s so dramatic and over-hyped.” Or the most morbid of all: “All the good characters are dead anyways.”
Despite what anybody says, I stand true to the soap opera that got me through the infamous “toughest year” of high school. And it’s not just because every time I watched “Grey’s” I could easily convince myself I wanted to be a surgeon (which would be catastrophic). It was an escape for me, and the show is so much bigger than so many give it credit for.
First of all, “Grey’s Anatomy” consistently uses its platform to challenge society’s notions of what certain people can and cannot do. Currently in Season 15, nine main characters are people of color. Season 14 debuted the first regular character in a medical drama to wear a hijab, an intern named Dr. Dahlia Qadri (who took off her hijab and used it as a tourniquet to save a patient in a medical emergency). And while representation is important especially in medicine, the show never makes a huge deal about having a diverse cast. Nobody is used as a “token character” and every role has a story and is developed naturally.
The head of almost every department (cardio, neuro, ortho, and general surgery), including the Chief of Surgery at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital, is a woman. In late Season 15, a ground-breaking episode aired titled “Silent All These Years” that tackled ideas of consent and sexual assault through the discovery of a surgeon’s biological father and the process of administering a rape kit to a patient who had been assaulted. In the episode, the survivor was taken into surgery protected by a hallway lined with every woman who worked in the hospital.
Arguably, “Grey’s” has always been a show about, for, and because of women. Yet at the end of the episode I mentioned earlier, the story shifted to one of the male surgeons, Dr. Ben Warren, having a serious conversation with his son about consent. In one of the most women-empowered episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” ever, the show was still able to effectively and organically integrate the role men play in the awareness and prevention of sexual assault.
It’s not just a diverse cast and band of strong women either — “Grey’s Anatomy” has supported and represented the LGBTQ+ community from the very beginning. Sometimes it comes from main characters, like the relationship between Dr. Callie Torres and Dr. Arizona Robbins. Or the story between Dr. Levi Shmitt and Dr. Nico Lang, which follows Shmitt discovering his feelings for Lang late in the season, challenging the idea that everyone figures out their sexuality when they’re younger. Or Dr. Casey Parker, a transgender male army veteran, who had multiple episodes aired before personally disclosing to a colleague saying “I’m a proud trans man (…) I like for people to get to know me before they find out my medical history.” Or it could be the male patient who is at the hospital with his husband, and nobody takes a second glance or makes a comment. Being a member of the LGBTQ+ community is represented as being completely normal, which it should be.
I could go on, and on. And yes, there are other reasons why the show is popular, and they probably have a lot to do with the very good looking actors and the way we as viewers learn to love them only to have them disappear in the most dramatic and tearful way. It’s a TV show.
There are too many ground-breaking and important storylines that would be ignored if we keep chalking “Grey’s Anatomy” up to be just another “medical drama/soap opera that has been running for far too long.” It spans across generations — with people like my mom who fell in love when it started airing on Thursday nights 15 years ago, and with people like me who are watching all 15 seasons on Netflix.
People from all walks of life can connect to the characters and the story they tell. For 15 years, “Grey’s Anatomy” has consistently put out fresh, relevant content, while integrating hard-hitting social commentary. So, next time you think about making fun of your friend for watching “Grey’s,” maybe consider watching with them to see why it has such a loyal fan base.
Leah Wright is a senior studying professional writing and English with a concentration in creative writing. She is pursuing a career in editing and publishing, but hopes to eventually become a published novelist. When she isn’t in class, she can most likely be found on the field with the Spartan Marching Band Color Guard, or rehearsing with an independent winter guard that competes around the country.