“Less, sort of hit you over the head for just one hour, and then we never talk about it again.”
“Grey’s Anatomy” has never been one to shy away from big political and social issues, but star Ellen Pompeo isn’t altogether thrilled with the way they’ve been handled.
On the latest episode of her “Tell Me” podcast, Pompeo broke down why she both appreciates that the show approaches and tackles such serious topics, but still has issues with how they go about it.
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She said that if it were up to her, she’d hope for it to “be less sort of preachy in one episode about certain things.” She cited as an example a “really moving” episode about Asian hate that the show tackled last season. “I think I’d like to see things happen a little more subtly and over time,” she explained. “You know, consistently and less, sort of, hit you over the head for just one hour, and then we never talk about it again.” “I wish we could touch on these social issues that are important and relevant and have them be threads throughout,” she said. In other words, less the classic ’90s “Very Special Episode” format and more an ongoing narrative thread. If the show were to tackle Asian hate, as an example, a main or recurring character could either themselves or have someone in their lives deal with it directly and then have the aftermath of that trauma carry on for awhile, much like these issues impact people far longer than the moment it happens.
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As she’s calling for change on “Grey’s Anatomy,” the show is about to face a major change already in that Pompeo announced she would only be appearing in eight of the upcoming season’s 22 scheduled episodes. Pompeo will be performing double duty, also announcing that she is set to executive produce and star in a new project for Hulu called “Orphan.” It is based on the true story of Natalia Grace, who was accused of being a sociopathic adult posing as a child by her adoptive parents While Pompeo will see a dramatic reduction in her presence on “Grey’s,” it’s not altogether unexpected. She’s long been talking about wanting to stretch herself creatively. And narratively, it’s not a huge departure as her Meredith Grey has not been as pivotal in the main action these past couple of seasons already.
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She spent the bulk of Season 17 in a medically-induced coma after contracting Covid-19 and then headed off to Minnesota to study Parkinson’s disease. She wrapped Season 18 by deciding to stay in Seattle and take the position of interim Chief of Surgery. It could be that ABC is testing the waters to see if the show can survive the loss of its titular lead. It helps that they’ve already renamed the hospital Grey Sloan Memorial, so the name could still make sense even if it does carry on beyond Pompeo. That said, creator Shonda Rhimes has indicated that “Grey’s Anatomy” will continue only so long as Pompeo is interested in continuing. It looks like her involvement can be less than half of a season’s episodes, though, which gives creators a lot of room to weave stories that have nothing to do with her. Maybe those stories can take a note from her podcast and take deeper, more sustained dives into those social issues they like to tackle each season.