Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo explains why she wants the show to be more nuanced about social issues. Ever since its premiere in 2005, the popular medical drama has often weaved social commentary into its stories. Over the course of its run, the series has addressed alcoholism, PTSD, mental health, and gun violence. It is a reflection of the way that television, which has always addressed relevant societal issues as a medium, feels more of a responsibility to do so thanks to social media and its facilitating of more immediate audience feedback.


A recent example of this is how Grey’s Anatomy season 18 examined Asian American hate during AAPI month. Poignantly titled “Stronger Than Hate”, the episode features a victim of an anti-Asian hate crime that is brought to Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital in need of surgery. Throughout the episode, the staff discusses what it means to be an Asian American. These efforts were particularly noteworthy, given the surge in hate crimes against Asian Americans.

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On her podcast Tell Me, Pompeo discussed why she believes Grey’s Anatomy should adjust its approach to social issues. Pompeo, who plays the title character Meredith Grey, said that she feels these issues are important and should be included throughout the show rather than being isolated in a single episode and then forgotten about. The actress noted that she wished these topics were handled more subtly and consistently rather than the current approach of giving each topic just one hour here and there. Her quote has been included below.

“I think if I had any desire honestly it would be to be less sort of preachy in one episode about certain things. It’s like, we do one episode about let’s see … Asian hate crimes is one that we did this past season that was really moving. I think I’d like to see things happen a little more subtly and over time. You know, consistently and less sort of hit you over the head for just one hour, and then we never talk about it again. I wish we could touch on these social issues that are important and have them be threads throughout.”

Pompeo, who will be scaling back her involvement in Grey’s Anatomy season 19 in order to lead a Hulu limited series, is speaking of the Very Special Episode problem. Although that descriptor is viewed somewhat negatively now, it was once seen as a very common way for shows to tackle difficult issues like drug use and death. That’s especially true of family programs and sitcoms, which tended to avoid serious topics. In an era of prestige dramas, that term can still be applied. Racism and financial troubles are addressed for an episode, or even a few scenes, as was the case with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but they don’t serve a purpose beyond that.

Pompeo is right that, no matter how well-meaning, the approach of highlighting an issue once or twice and then mostly moving on does it a disservice. Different writing teams will handle things differently, of course, but it would be much more authentic and true to life for Grey’s Anatomy and other dramas to reflect the reality that societal problems are a constant and cannot be neatly separated into their own corner whenever it’s most convenient.

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Source: Tell Me