Not Just the Obligatory Musical Episode

By on Apr 16, 2011 in Raves |

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Regardless of what you thought of the result (if you happened to see it), you have to admit that putting on a musical episode of Grey’s Anatomy—and doing so sincerely without a sense of parody or irony—indicates that Shonda Rhimes has some pretty major creator-balls. It certainly wasn’t Glee, and jazz hands were nowhere to be seen. It took a different tack to the trope of the musical episode, and it succeeded as much as it failed.

I get what Shonda tried to do, and I loved the idea of commemorating the songs that Grey’s made famous. But here’s the rub: a show’s music supervisor usually chooses songs whose tone sets the right mood for a certain scene and does so without much regard for the actual lyrics. So while the refrains of the songs fit in with the storyline (e.g. “Breathe,” “Wait,” “How We Operate,” “How To Save a Life”), the rest of the lyrics did not. Take The Fray’s hit song “How to Save a Life,” for example. It’s about failing to reverse a friend’s self-destruction, and that’s not quite applicable to Callie’s case. To be fair, however, some of the other songs (e.g. “Chasing Cars,” “Grace,” “The Story”) did actually make sense within the storyline.

The performances were a mixed bag. Sara Ramirez: awesome. Kevin McKidd, Chandra Wilson, Chyler Leigh: almost as awesome. Ellen Pompeo, Justin Chambers, Jessica Capshaw: surprisingly impressive. Kate Walsh, Kim Raver: points for trying. Patrick Dempsey, James Pickens Jr., Sandra Oh: musical no-shows! It’s no surprise that the talented singers were showcased more than the less-talented ones, but the editing of the scenes made the disparity so obvious. (Case in point: we saw and heard about one whole second of Addison singing.)

I loved the “book” of the musical, or the spoken script. Mark’s grief, Alex’s pessimism about his happily-ever-after, Arizona and Mark’s argument over Callie’s wishes, Arizona’s begging Callie to live, and—holy cow—Meredith’s elevator meltdown were all written with the brilliance we’ve come to expect from Shonda’s keystrokes.

But what really sold this episode was the absurd talent of one Sara Ramirez. This was her episode, and that’s not just because the hour was all about Callie. It’s because of Sara’s performance—on both sides of reality. In the the “real” world, she portrayed Callie’s trauma and terror with goosebump-raising authenticity. In the world of her imagination, she gave bravura performances of some our favorite songs with crackling emotion. The last chorus of “The Story” nearly brought Seattle Grace down and made the whole musical conceit worth it.

Was the episode a slam-dunk? Not nearly. Was the episode memorable, emotional, and bold? Absolutely. I applaud Shonda & Co., the cast, and the crew for taking the risk. And, not for nothing, I still have some of the tracks on repeat in my iTunes.

Note: I cannot tell a lie. Most of this post was repurposed from a blog post I wrote for Wetpaint. But I wanted to share my thoughts nonetheless. (And hey, cut a opportunistic, overstretched blogger some slack!)