Why is it always about the sex? People put too much stock in sex. They have an unhealthy relationship with sex. When a character on Sex and the City can get out of bed, have a spat with the woman lying next to him, and immediately conclude that “maybe I should just leave”… In what universe is that a response to someone you just made love to?
If Grey’s Anatomy is known for one thing, it’s the sex. You’d think that would make it an extremely boring show. Because sex is boring. Despite all the sex, Grey’s Anatomy is actually worth watching.
This is not about pop-culture morals (although it could be). This is about the nature of relationships. Love is not about sex. Love is about companionship, caring, and commitment. But here’s the clincher: What kind of a person would go to bed with someone she didn’t love? And I mean love in the “commitment” sense of the word. I don’t mean just the feelings and the passion. (Although they’re really cool, too.) I mean, what kind of a person would bring sex into a relationship that could end with a simple morning-after spat? That’s unhealthy.
Yet which of our favorite characters has not had an unhealthy relationship with sex? This is the irony. As human beings, what motivates us is love, not sex. Sex is boring. But what keeps us spellbound are the character’s problems. Healthy characters are boring. Disturbed characters are interesting. So when a character has an unhealthy relationship with sex, it’s the relationship part that motivates us, and the unhealthy part that keeps us glued to the TV set.
How can Grey’s Anatomy be such a good show even with all the sex?
It’s not just about the sex. It’s about the characters’ relationships and reactions. For example, in the first episode we meet the main characters’ resident surgeon, Miranda Bailey, nicknamed “The Nazi.” Their relationship with her is a key part of the show. But their relationships include their feelings about and reactions to sex with each other. So while it’s not just about the sex, sex is an element that in the lives of these characters makes the story happen.
Even the sexy characters are sympathetic. Izzy Stevens is played by the supremely sexy Katherine Heigl. In one episode, she says of Denny Duquette that he treats her as more than a supermodel. He treats her as he would an intelligent person. That was the one quality this man, 15 years her senior, whose condition had confined him to a hospital bed— That was the one quality he had that made her fall in love with him. They never had sex. Yet it has been one of the most meaningful relationships in the series, and certainly one of the most significant. All because sex goddess Izzy Stevens is a sympathetic character.
Even the average characters are multifaceted. One of the least melodramatic characters in the show has got to be George O’Malley. What can we say about George, besides that he’s a wimp? He had a fixation on Meredith. But for a guy with no sisters, sharing a house with two women hasn’t destabilized him too much. Despite his wimpy demeanor, he has a clear sense of professional ethics. He can’t give a straight answer to an uncomfortable question, but he’s willing to break the rules and even risk his job to do the right thing as a doctor. Remember when he questioned whether the anesthesiologist was drunk and got expelled from the OR? He was right, and he was heroic. Multifaceted.
The conflicts are complex. Once you’re embroiled in a complex story, it’s almost impossible to get untangled from it. Meredith, an intern, fell in love with Derek, an attending and her boss, until his wife showed up. He had left her, because she had had an affair with his best friend. And when this ex-friend showed up and started talking to Meredith, Derek hauled off and decked him in the face. Anyhow, this whole relationship between Derek and Meredith got them into trouble, because they were keeping it secret, because it’s improper. Except that intern Christina has an even more involved relationship with attending Preston Burke (her boss). And that’s apparently okay, because no one found out about it until Burke intentionally told the Chief of Surgery, who incidentally when he was a resident had had an affair with Meredith’s mother. But Meredith just recently figured out that her father had left because of this. Her father reminds us a lot of George, whose heart Meredith broke because of her feelings for Derek. Like mother, like daughter. And speaking of Meredith’s mother…
It’s the same reason everyone slows down to rubberneck at an accident on the road (thus risking another accident). It’s why no news is good news. All the most horrible stuff that happens to a person, that’s what makes for a great story. And Grey’s Anatomy has represented in its heroes every last dysfunctional corner of the human psyche.