Meredith Gray is the Modern Day Brenda Walsh

Without any hesitation, I’ll admit that Grey’s Anatomy is one of my favorite shows on television right now. Nope — I don’t watch it to participate in later discussions with women. And I don’t do it for any other reason than the fact that it’s a well written show. I never got into E.R., but if it was anything like this, I probably should have given it a shot. The great thing about Grey’s is that the focus of the show initially begins with the patients (who are promptly introduced at the show’s beginning.) But somewhere during the development of the story, the condition of the patient is often used as a mirror to reflect the struggles of the young interns. Patients come to Seattle Grace to seek help, but ironically they often do as much to help the doctors as the doctors do to treat them. (And in many cases, I’d argue that the patients do more — I am often amazed at the number of fatalities during the show’s run. Often my friends and will watch the show together and try to figure out from the first few minutes of the show which new patients are going to die. It’s morbid — I know.)

What truly separates Grey’s from other shows is how well defined the regular characters are. I watch because after having invested time learning about each character, they now seem like folks I know. Take Christina Yang, for instance. The over-achieving robotic cold, yet brilliant doctor who seems to do well at anything she puts her hand to — but as we learn, she’s still figuring this ‘love thing’ out. Then there’s Isobel Stevens. Izzie is probably one of the most interesting characters. The tall blond attractive intern spends a countless amount of time convincing everyone that she’s not the stereotype of tall blond women. Not only does she seem to be proving to everyone else that she’s deserving of her spot in Seattle Grace, but she’s also trying to convince herself. Katherine Heigl play this character to a “T” — and I’m completely in agreement with the actor in her recent grievance — she deserves as much compensation as every other character.

Dr. Miranda Bailey is often annoying as the overbearing commander of the interns, but having a child has softened her and I don’t find myself as annoyed by her as I once was.

The male doctors and interns on the show are also quite intriguing. While not quite as fleshed out as their female counterparts, all of the males have at some point bared their soul and earned our compassion for their situation. Whether it’s Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd, who’s trying to escape the shadow of a betrayed marriage — all while having his ex-wife and the best friend (the same best friend who she betrayed him with) in the same hospital. Dr. Webber, the chief of hospital surgery, is painfully going through a midlife crisis, having lost his wife and faced with the prospect of life without his persona-defining position.

This show is so well written and each of these characters have been deserving of our empathy. Beneath it all, they’re just doctors trying to make a difference. Well, that is, all except one….

Dr. Meredith Gray is the title character of the show. She’s a young intern much like the others. We’re supposed to be seeing the show through Meredith’s eyes. After all, she narrates each episode (an ABC trend that seemed to begin with Desperate Housewives.) But while the original intent of Meredith may have been to garner our sympathy more than all others, at this point in the show’s third season, she’s become one of the key folks that many of us are secretly wishing will fail.

Let me explain….

Meredith is the privileged daughter of one of the most respected former surgeons in the hospital. And even with her mother no longer at the hospital, because of the relationship that her mother once had with the Dr. Webber (the current chief of surgery, I remind you) Meredith always seems to have a ring of protection around her that others don’t. And the chief bears no shame in reminding us that she’s “Ellis Grey’s little girl”.

Meredith tries to convince us that she’s somehow “unlucky in love” as her narration tries to garner our sympathy. Her life on the show, however, differs considerably. From this vantage point, she’s the proverbial ‘senior prom queen’. She has the most attractive and desirable male in the hospital who, despite coming down from a recent divorce, is doing all that he can to give her attention and stay focused on his work. At one point during the show, she had both Patrick Dempsey and Chris O’Donnell fighting over her — while she seemingly stepped away and let them sort of ‘duke it out’.

Everyone wants to be Meredith’s friend. The strange thing is I can’t quite understand why. She brings a cloud of depression around everyone. This is a fact that she has admitted to during the show. Rarely can she be found laughing out loud or not complaining about something…..anything, as if she’s forever damaged from a childhood raised during the height of the Kurt Cobain-esque “Grunge era”.

Meredith didn’t have the best upbringing. But then again, who among us in this era of single-parent households being more common than dual parent households actually has had an ideal upbringing? Meredith’s mother cheated on her father. And so, he did what most men would do if they discovered that their wife had an affair and was still attracted to the other man — you move on. Meredith’s mom continued her pursuit of Dr. Webber, yet her father found life with another wife. Seems pretty common to me. However, somehow Meredith makes him feel like a beast for it. At every moment, the poor man seems at a loss for words and woefully underequipped to communicate with his unforgiving daughter. And what has the man really done to Meredith. She may be angry that he’s moved on and has another daughter. (During one scene she berates him for not ‘fighting harder for his relationship’. But really, what is a man to do when your wife admittedly and continually seeks the comfort of another man?) And had Meredith herself made more of an effort to establish a relationship with her father, perhaps there could have been a stronger bond? But the part of me that knows the person that is Meredith Grey knows that she probably would prefer to complain about a relationship that isn’t there than to work towards developing one that is.

When I think back over three seasons of episodes, there are few moments when I really felt compassion for Meredith. Quite simply, she’s a selfish character. She doesn’t know what it’s really like to be in trouble. And while she may have had a few recent “unfortunate situations”, strangely — even when she was on her death bed — I wasn’t all that concerned at the prospect of life without Meredith. It’s a horrible thing to say — I know it is. But truthfully, the only concern I had was for Dr. Shepherd and how this tragedy might affect McDreamy.

For awhile, I thought this negativity in my soul was a strange by-product of a man joining the recent trend of seeing compassion in the plight of the villain and finding fault in our so-called heroes. (When I was a kid everybody loved Luke Skywalker and hated Darth Vader. And now it’s just the opposite.) But then I did some browsing on the Interwebs. Trust me — despising Meredith Grey is no revolutionary notion. There are legions of people who absolutely detest the character of Meredith Grey. They see the selfish, “me-me-me” character who just can’t seem to see beyond her own shallow world. Don’t believe me? Just search the web for the words “Meredith”, “Grey” and “Hate” and you’ll see what I mean.

It’s strange to look back and realize that we’re already well past the middle of this decade. As strange as it may seem, we have enough distance from the 90s to be able to accurately identify the iconic metadata that made it what it was, much like we’ve done with the 70s and 80s. And as my mind goes to the 1990s, I recall a phenomenon that was very much like this one.

It was the early 90s when Brenda Walsh was a character on Beverly Hills 90210. Initially Brenda was a happy and cheerful character. The twin brother of Jason Priestly, she was everyone’s favorite pal. But somewhere along the line, as the characters around the circle developed and showed flaws and garnered our sympathy, all we could see was Brenda with the hottest guy in school, the proverbial center of the popular circle in high school — and yet even this wasn’t enough. (Strangely enough, now that I think about it, Brenda also had a tall blonde counterpart who was more intelligent than she was given credit for.) The more that the nature of Brenda’s character was unveiled, the more that the hate brewed slowly for fans of the show. What made the situation worse was Shannon Doherty’s off screen persona, as she was always in the news for random acts of teen angst (even though she was well into her 20s). Eventually the show’s writers had no choice but to darken her character to match the hate that had grown for her over time.

One need not stare intensely to see the parallels between Brenda Walsh and Meredith Gray. While Ellen Pompeo may not be as wild as Doherty was off-screen, they share membership in that rare club of TV personalities that the viewing public has been coerced to root for, yet whose persona garnered so much disdain that the mere sound of their voice was like that of nails on a chalkboard…..in a room with an echo.

TV writers today have evolved with the medium and are much less shallow than the writers of fifteen years ago. Perhaps Shonda Rhimes and company realize that this Meredith character that they’ve presented us with is incredibly shallow and selfish. Perhaps they are purposely lighting her character this way to set the stage for something that would cast a very different shadow down the road? Whatever happens and wherever these characters may go, it will certainly take a tremendous amount of empathy evoking behavior for me to feel anything short of contempt for the woman who has everything, is loved by all and has it made, yet cares of no one and brings misery to all that are in her presence.


5 Responses to “Meredith Gray is the Modern Day Brenda Walsh”

  1. 1 mina
    May 17, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    Hey Dev, I haven’t visited in a while but when I saw this piece I had to leave my two cents. I feel very much the same way about Meredith Grey! The writers have done everything in their power to make the audience pity poor Meredith who has everything. I think after they killed her Mom off it had the reverse effect for me. I felt so sorry for her mom and thought they let Meredith off really easy. My one disagreement with you is the comparison to Brenda Walsh. I personally have compared her to Ally McBeal’s character. Initially you find their whiny, corky ways a little endearing and then it just becomes annoying over time. ANother similarity between these two shows is they way the supporting characters are so incredibly developed that the main character is no longer the focus of the show. I have never wished or hoped a character would die on a show as much as I did earlier this season. The sad truth is I was more worried about how those who loved her could survive the loss. When she was brought back I hoped that the experience would make her a litttle less selfish, a little more considerate, less whiny…but that never happened.

    Although I did not really watch the last season of Ally McBeal I did watch the last episode and couldn’t believe that I was moved to tears as the show ended. Ally worked my nerves and I grew tired of her but there was still something loveable about her character. I don’t know if that quality exists in Meredith Grey all I can say is right now I don’t see myself shedding tears for her since I haven’t already. Even though she was dumped twice by McDreamy, slept with George and treated him like crap, suffered the loss of her mom while simultaneously having a near death experience. Yet, I have shed tears for Izzy (several times), Christina, George (more times than I can count, Bailey, the Chief…even Addison and MCDreamy. That’s more than half the cast and yet not even a tear for Meredith…I don’t know what that says about her but something has got to give.

    Thanks for giving me a place to vent!!

  2. 2 Shelly
    May 15, 2010 at 5:30 am

    I truly love this, aside from being very well written and definitly explains each character exactly it is a quick summary of the show. I am a huge fan of Gray’s, the show is full of drama, and humor and sometimes tragedy… much like real life. Two thumbs up to this, and the show! 😉

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