Although cloaked in surgical scrubs, this well-cast drama is essentially an updated version of “The Paper Chase,” with medical interns standing in as the set-upon law students — knowing some of them won’t cut it — and various doctors sharing the role of their tormenting Prof. Kingsfield. While few of the notes struck are new, buoyed by the trio of intriguing females at its center as the hazed and confused, series appears well positioned to capitalize on its “Desperate Housewives” lead-in.
In another “Paper” clip, this new show even features a potentially awkward relationship between Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), the daughter of a famous physician attempting to follow in mom’s footsteps; and Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), the attending doctor she beds in a one-night stand without knowing they’ll be working together. This yields all kinds of meet-cute banter and flirtation, which might make younger femmes swoon but doesn’t lend much to the proceedings.
Still, writer Shonda Rhimes has given Meredith likable company, including Cristina (Sandra Oh), whose ambition often supercedes her people skills; Izzie (Katherine Heigl), who underwear-modeled her way through med school; and lumpish George (T.R. Knight), who winds up living with Meredith and Izzie, which is tough, since they refuse to acknowledge that he’s a guy.
None of this is especially fresh, as the interns are put through the paces by the attendings and residents, one of whom (Chandra Wilson) is ominously known as “the Nazi.” There are also too many musical montages in the three episodes previewed and a “Sex and the City”-type voiceover narration in which Meredith drums home the night’s lesson, just in case anyone missed it.
Those negatives, however, are offset by the polished cast and nifty little flourishes, from an intern who botches a procedure earning the nickname “007” (as in “license to kill”) to Izzie laboring to be taken seriously to George wrestling with emasculation when he’s dispatched to buy tampons. There are also some particularly strong guest performances in these initial hours, with Anna Maria Horsford as a gravely ill nurse who once worked at the hospital and Keith David as a gay man in need of a transplant.
Nobody’s apt to forget “ER” because of this, but the mix of a youthful cast, crisp dialogue, romance, the Darwinian workplace struggle to survive, and life-or-death situations combine to make the show appealing and watchable in spite of its familiarity. Moreover, the strength of the ensemble leaves the producers with a wide array of story possibilities going forward.
Any number of medical franchises have quickly crapped out in recent years, but “Grey’s Anatomy” seemingly possesses the right parts to outlast them — a prognosis reminding us that in TV’s ratings chase, execution almost invariably trumps originality as a prescription for success.