Why the Grey’s Anatomy musical is simultaneously the worst thing ever and my new favourite obsession

I love musicals. I mean, I really, really adore them. Ever since I was a child, musicals in pretty much any form have filled me with pure, unabashed glee (terrible pun ABSOLUTELY intended,) and so even when a musical is terrible – and I mean, GOD AWFUL – I will still listen to the soundtrack ad nauseam.

You know what else I love? Grey’s Anatomy. That love is most definitely abashed. I will try to refrain from pulling out the ol’ hipster adage, “I loved it before it was cool” (even though I TOTALLY DID,) and also bite my tongue when it comes to describing the past two seasons of the show (GHOST SEX?! NO. JUST… NO.) Instead, I’ll just say that show was once awesome, and then it really, really wasn’t. And now it’s back on track to being awesome again.

So, it was pretty much inevitable that I would kind of really love this past Thursday’s musical episode of Grey’s. Even though it was not… good. Stylistically, narritively, even creatively, it was kind of a big hot mess. But the singing! Oh, the singing…

It started promising enough: Callie, a few months pregnant and in the midst of being proposed to, is thrown through her car’s windshield when a truck comes out of nowhere. As she lies bleeding and struggling for breath on the hood of the car, she begins to see a disembodied version of herself that sings the shows theme song to her mangled form. As Callie is whisked through the halls of the hospital, she sees her colleagues and friends singing to her as well as her own corporeal form – “Chasing Cars” this time – and you can tell by her terrified sobs and fearful eyes that she knows that hearing people sing is not right; something in Callie’s head is not right.

(PS how frigging sexy is Kevin McKidd’s voice?? YOWZA)

Now, if they had managed to stick with this theme, I think the episode would have been salvageable. Like Chicago, the music would be taking place in the protagonist’s (Callie’s) mind and would represent her compromised mental state. Great, fantastic, I was on board.

But then something horrible happened: Chyler Leigh started singing. This in and of itself wasn’t terrible (though I’m sorry, I’ve been hearing a lot of undeserved praise for her pipes – she’s not horrible, but I’d have rather heard more from Chandra Wilson,) but the manner in which she sang was. She was in the O.R. with Callie, who was losing consciousness, and as she told her to “just breathe,” she started crooning Anna Nalick’s “Breathe.” (Subtle, no?) And then… she left the O.R. And continued to sing the song through the halls of the hospital. Suddenly, the narrative made little sense: was this actually happening? Was Lexie Grey actually wandering the halls looking for Mark Sloan through song? Or was Callie just imagining her doing this? Are we to assume it’s a combination of the two – that she was indeed searching for Mark, but that she wasn’t actually singing? If so, then how did Callie know what Lexie was doing? Can we take any of the interactions between Lexie and Sloan at face value? How can their conversation actually be happening if Callie is imagining it? The problem with musicals is that when it comes to the singing, you need to make a choice and stick with it – either your characters inhabit a world where people can spontaneously burst into song any time, any place, and no one thinks anything of it; or, they inhabit a world where music is limited to the stage and to their minds and thus all musical numbers must follow that logic. By choosing to show that first number the way they did, the writers for Grey’s set the tone for the rest of the show and to have Lexie completely disregard that was jarring.

This was not the end of the jarring, non-sensical musical numbers. Addison is flown in to help Callie and her baby (which was just a waste of a cameo if you ask me, especially since she didn’t even sing?! but whatever…) and after she informs an unconscious Callie that the attendings would be meeting to figure out her treatment, we’re shown just that: all the head doctors arguing over the best course of treatment. Suddenly, Owen Hunt (in all his sexy, singing glory) is scolding his fellow doctors through song. Calm down! Stop fighting! Let’s work together! Again, totally disorienting and more than a little ridiculous – especially when he proceeds to shut the door and we can continue to hear the muffled sounds of him singing. What?! So, now we’re on the outside of the room, with Meredith and Christina and Karev, watching and listening to the muffled musical number happening on the other side of the glass. The stylistic choice of this still baffles me. Are we still in Callie’s head? If so, why are we a part of the conversation between Meredith, Christina and Karev where they discuss Karev’s love life? I mean the “Seattle Grace Mercy Death” line was pretty cute, but this has little to do with what’s happening in the episode. Why aren’t we listening to Owen lament in song about how they’re going to help Callie? Isn’t that what Callie would be thinking about? Mostly, I think I was just pissed that they cut off Kevin McKidd’s sweet, dulcet tones mid-song and I couldn’t hear him anymore =(

The other musical numbers were pretty unremarkable – slow, soft, pretty music which sounds great as background music during a regular episode, but as a musical number? Not so much. Then came the most bizarre number of all – Callie, CLEARLY dreaming, flies through the clouds in her car with Arizona. As she realizes that Arizona is going to propose to her, she giddily begins to sing her love through a trippy unsettling version of “Running On Sunshine” that is then hijacked by various other members of the hospital staff as they all partake in sexy fun-times. Callie croons to Arizona in the sky; Eli dances circles around Miranda Bailey while seducing her with song; Owen kisses a bra-clad Christina all over while twirling her around their kitchen; Teddy’s fake husband Henry (played by the criminally underused Scott Foley) hits on her with innuendo and leering while she plays coy; and Alex Karev writhes around his tiny tin camper with his sexy new girlfriend Lucy, singing to her like a rockstar before falling into bed with her. WHAT IS GOING ON. CALLIE IS DYING AND WE GET A SEX MONTAGE? WHEN DID THIS SHOW GO OFF THE RAILS?! NOTHING MAKES SENSE ANYMORE. And then! We get the horribly contrived “How To Save A Life” sung by all the doctors as they rush to save Callie and her prematurely born baby. Really? A little heavy-handed, don’t you think Shonda?

Creator Shonda Rhimes was quoted in an interview as saying “I didn’t want any jazz hands happening in my hospital.” But I honestly think a few jazz hands and some dance numbers could have actually worked in the show’s favour. If they had based all the number’s in Callie’s head, made them as ridiculous and surreal and over-the-top as they could, it would have made it much more clear – this isn’t happening. This is in Callie’s head. Callie has suffered head trauma and this is how her brain is coping. If anything, I think it would have made the episode more powerful; the juxtaposition of singing and dancing and costumes with the reality of Callie’s looming potential death would have been incredibly poignant, I think. But what do I know?

In case the above didn’t make it abundantly clear, let me state for the record: this episode is pretty awful. It doesn’t make sense. It abandons the style whenever it sees fit – one minute they’re singing all ’round the hospital, the next Meredith is having a breakdown in the elevator about how screwed up and cruel the universe is (a powerful, moving scene, one of Ellen Pompeo’s best since her “Pick me, choose me, love me” speech of season two, but it was kinda lost in the singing extravaganza.) I feel it necessary to explain this because as terrible and horrible and ill-conceived as the whole thing was, I kind of loved it. Way more than I should have, considering that I am fully aware of how terrible it was.

First of all, that gong show of a number that was “Running On Sunshine”? Probably my favourite number of the night. Purely and simply because the song itself was impecably sung. The number was absolutely stupid and confusing and made little sense in the narrative, but there is just something about sexy men singing a sexy song and being all sexy that gives me goosebumps:

SERIOUSLY. How hot is Karev?? I cannot stop singing this song. Or “Chasing Cars.” Or, this one:

I’ve been a fan of Sara Ramirez’s singing chops since I first heard her on the Spamalot soundtrack but holy crapballs, when she hits the end of “The Story”? CHILLS. I get chills. And watching her disembodied spirit or whatever GRAB HER OWN LEGS, trying to do anything to jar herself awake… it was cheesy, it made no bloody sense for the story, but it moved me.

As you can see in the above video, it all works out. Callie survives, her baby survives, she comes to and accepts Arizona’s proposal. All’s well that ends well. I don’t really feel like the episode is one that needs revisiting – not like the season two sweeps week stunner with the bomb in a guy’s chest, or last season’s two part cliffhanger with a gunman in the hospital shooting doctors left and right – but the soundtrack? I’ll be listening to that for weeks, trust me.

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One response to “Why the Grey’s Anatomy musical is simultaneously the worst thing ever and my new favourite obsession

  1. I stopped watching Grey’s at the beginning of this season, so I didn’t watch this episode despite my love of musicals. And I probably won’t ever watch it. But I did watch the clips here and I would be lying if I said that Chasing Cars didn’t make me cry. And thought I didn’t think I could possibly love Kevin McKidd more, that song changed things.

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