Loyal fans of the prime-time medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” were rewarded for their patience when the 17th season premiered on Thursday, Nov. 12. The anxiously awaited return of the longest-running prime-time medical drama in America was well received by its audience with 5.7 million total views. The unexpected hiatus between seasons 16 and 17 left fans hanging with no real finale. The show’s production was abruptly stopped with 4 episodes to finish the 16th season last March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to protect the staff and actors of the show, the decision was made to discontinue filming, making Grey’s the first prime-time show to do so.
The emotional two-hour special focused on how Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital was handling the arrival of COVID-19. The timeline was pushed back to the beginning of the pandemic, before the public knew the details it does now. It gave the viewers an idea of how the medical community was dealing with the influx of critically ill patients and the emotional toll it took on the medical staff. Granted, this is still televised drama, but this popular ABC series has been known to incorporate sticky issues in their storylines such as domestic abuse, transgender rights and drug addiction. Bringing COVID-19 to the forefront of the new season seemed appropriate and timely.
The premiere starts with the Chief of Grey-Sloan Memorial, Dr. Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) explaining to Dr. Richard Weber (James Pickens Jr.) the new protocols the hospital needs to follow, due to the pandemic.
They did an excellent job of showing the harsh reality of what goes on behind the scenes of hospitals and the mental toll it takes on healthcare workers. Although there are some lighthearted and funny moments, they never let the audience forget the seriousness and extremity behind what is going on in the world right now. The writers continuously touch upon the rising death toll, while also highlighting a new perspective: how much doctors are giving up in order to help others. Not only are they sacrificing their health and safety, but many are being separated from their families, due to their exposure to the virus. The average viewer does not understand this reality unless dealing with it personally. Those watching get a powerful dose of emotion that comes in response to how doctors are coping with the stress, separation and hard work.
After almost two decades, this season premiere topped the charts for the most eye-opening and captivating of them all. Krista Vernoff, the showrunner for Grey’s Anatomy, felt like the show had an obligation to tell the stories of frontline medical workers during this national crisis. “This pandemic is breaking people, it’s breaking doctors, and we have an opportunity to help drive home the costs to the medical community,” said Vernoff during an interview with EW.
Not only was the crisis fitting for the entire country, but specifically for the setting of the show, Seattle. This city was one of the first hit and had to cope with the crisis early on. Lockdowns and deaths were real and evident, making the storyline even more legitimate.
On set, protocols had to be adjusted for the actors to return to filming. Alternative camera lenses are used to give the appearance the characters are closer together than they actually are. Intimate scenes are conducted without kissing and the set has asked actors to stay in designated pods during production, even the staff works in shifts. Zones are tested differently based on their amount of exposure: red zone, three times a week. Yellow and green zones, once a week. It’s a precaution that allows for constant transparency on set, but also, you know, the minimal amount of times a swab has to be stuck up your nose,” as reported in Esquire.
Ellen Pompeo, who plays Dr. Meredith Grey, told People magazine in an interview, that she was dedicating Season 17 to "all who have fallen and to everyone of you who by the grace of God is still standing," adding, "This season is for you with humility and a bit of humor to get us through and endless amounts of gratitude. I hope we do you proud." She may not be a doctor, but she plays one on TV. The viewers who have enjoyed the show’s particular brand of medical drama would like to thank those who are bringing us our weekly fix of Grey’s Anatomy. Although there is a lull between Nov. 19 and Jan. 9, we will patiently await the return of our favorite medical drama, it was sorely missed!
There are rumors saying this is “Grey’s Anatomy’s” final season, and if it is, it will certainly go out with a bang. It will go out standing up for the medical community, which it has successfully has done for decades. People need to be informed about the seriousness of this crisis, and “Grey’s Anatomy” cast and staff can walk away with their heads held high, knowing they have fulfilled their duty.