It’s TV Ate My Wardrobe’s first festive season and to mark this occasion we are hosting a very special rewind series. What this means is that we will be featuring a whole host of guest posts and in the spirit of the holidays we have asked a variety of writers to discuss a festive episode of their choice. These will be appear on the site over the next couple of weeks and there’s an eclectic mix including teen dramas, science fiction, animation, comedy, drama and more to get you in the celebratory mood. Or to at least give you plenty of suggestions of TV to watch over the break.
In our last of the Festive Rewind, Andrew Kendall discusses Grey’s Anatomy and “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” Thanks to everyone who has taken part in the series and to all who have been reading. Have a very happy holidays!
It’s considered passé to speak about Grey’s Anatomy these days, let alone admit affection for it. Alas for me, I’ve never known to keep in vogue. In its tenth season, the show is not quite the well-oiled machine it used to be, although it still provides its pleasure. Even if there’s argument on the true quality of its current output, I think it’s fair to call the behemoth sized 27 episode (!!!) season two one of the finest seasons of dramatic television in the last decade. Packed Seattle Grace always has much happening and frayed nerves lead to confusion and awkward humour, and it’s that same overreliance on too many people with varying emotions being forced to inhabit the space together. Which is, incidentally, an excellent description of what the holidays is like for some of us….
“Ironically, it’s that family togetherness that’s thought to be the reason depression rates do spike at the holidays.”
Every day at Seattle Grace Hospital takes the closeness of work relationships to operatic levels is like Christmas when you’re living out of everyone else’s back pockets. The five original interns – Cristina, George, Izzie, Meredith and Alex – have grown to become a unit themselves, so in a way this is family closeness added to work relationships’ closeness making everything especially volatile. What’s impressive about Grey’s Anatomy’s incorporation of holiday themes in their shows is always the way the holidays end up being a non-event, in “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” in particular like the thanksgiving episode that season the holiday is incidental to the usual madness which comes with life. No one has the time to stop living because it’s Christmas. Executive producer and writer Krista Vernoff is familiar with the show’s beats and exploits them in a way that makes the holiday asides grow organically from the story. It’s not so much a Christmas episode of Grey’s Anatomy as it is a regular episode with a burgeoning realisation that, oh yes, it’s Christmas too. Much is happening, but there are two main aspects that demand focus in relation to the festivity of the season.
The necessary Christmas spirit is being dispended via Izzie. Heigl’s turn as the well-meaning, kind Isobel Stevens has always been impressive for me and season 2 was her best season. She’s getting over her breakup with Alex and using Christmas as a tool to make her happy. The other interns are less than enthused, but they allow her these peculiarities in the spirit of the season. Meredith, though, is moved to sympathise with Alex when she realises he’s failed his Medical Boards Exams and needs help studying. Soon Cristina gets roped into it, then George and as we expect Izzie ends up finding out. Character beats mean that Justin Chambers isn’t a part of the scene (the most underrated of the five interns) but the scene in the hallway with the original four is a classic example of Grey’s at its best with the great image of Cristina lugging that Christmas tree reminding you what time of year it is.
“He CHEATED on me with George’s skanky syph Nurse!” Izzie screams driven to outrage. And Meredith responds with significant sagacity.
“We know he cheated on you. That’s why we let you turn the living room into Santa’s freaking village! We’re not big on holidays, you know that! But we’re trying to be supportive because you’re having a hard time, just like Alex is having a hard time […] I have a mother who doesn’t recognize me. As far as family goes, this hospital, you guys are it. So, I know you’re pissed at Alex but maybe you could try and help him anyway. Sorta like in the spirit of this holiday you keep shoving down everybody’s throats.”
And, sure, like dark and twisty season 2 Meredith it’s somewhat cloying but it gets home the point of the season in fine form. It also leads to the perfect example of Grey’s thriving on tragedy and comedy when a few scenes later, Izzie puts her resent aside and does help Alex with his studying.
He’s confused about this apparent Christmas miracle. “Why are you helping me after what I did?” he asks.
And there’s a beat on Heigl’s face where you think the show is going to get steeped in sentiment until you realise what you’re dealing with. I say season 2 of the show is one of the finest for a drama, but Grey’s Anatomy more than most of its contemporaries has honed the mix of comedy to drama in an excellent way, and this scene is an example of that as Izzie she screams at him.
“BECAUSE IT’S WHAT JESUS WHAT FREAKIN’ DO!”
And it’s a line that works on multiple levels, as earnest and well-meaning as it is funny but in stark contrast to elsewhere in the hospital where atheistic Cristina who clashes with boyfriend Burke over a patient whose mother is overly devoted to Christmas. Vernoff does not ask us to choose sides. Christmas may be happening but life is happening, too. And in the midst of festivity, work must go on. The Cristina arc is one of my favorite representations of atheists dealing with Christmas on a network show, because she does not get a change of heart and she does not get hit with the Christmas spirit as she watches this boy reject the donor heart he’s been given. Instead she delivers a speech completely without sentiment beginning with a line that is a fine estimation of her character.
“You know I don’t believe in Santa either Justin or God. I believe in medicine. And it’s a medical miracle you’re alive.”
The “Festive” season means different things for different people. For Meredith it’s about appreciating the people you call family – blood related or not, for Dr Bailey stuck at the hospital it’s about seeing all the crazy injuries that come with the season while dealing with her pregnancy, for Izzie it’s about god and festivities. And it’s fine that they don’t all see it as one singular thing. Sure, Christmas root are religious but it’s hard to argue that for a non-religious holiday the season has become about more than just Christmas or religion. In all the pieces we’ve covered in this Festive Rewind the question of how the season influences character relationships has come up because with its end of year placement December becomes a time to share with those close to you, in whatever zany way you choose. It’s why Meredith’s closing monologue is about family and finding your tribe. The world of Seattle Grace has always been one full of the hustle and bustle and the festive season does not change that, but it does shine a brighter light on the importance of things like grace and belief systems.
It’s not really an episode ABOUT the holidays, but it’s sort of why the title of “Grandma Got run over by a Reindeer” makes so much sense. During all the festivities, there’s still a lot of dark pragmatism to deal with. Like the man who tries gift wrapping a 75 inch television for his wife and ends up with a hernia. Or the good day who falls off the roof while hanging “Hanumas”. Life drama doesn’t disappear at Christmas. It only gets augmented. And, yet, when that final shot of Izzie, George and Meredith under the tree looking up comes even if Christmas is not your season Vernoff makes me agree, friends are ALWAYS in season. And, being close to people you care about is ultimately what being festive is about, right?
Months after leaving University Andrew Kendall is still trying to solve the answer to that infamous question – what do you do with a B.A. in English? In the meantime he spends his days as an editorial assistant at a local magazine in Guyana and spends his nights watching too much film and TV, being provoked and provoking others on the internet. If you feel like provoking check him out on Twitter, where he spends too much time.