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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
honda Rhimes must not take negative criticism too well. The third season of her medical drama, “Grey’s Anatomy,” was widely panned for not living up to the quality of the series’ first two years, and instead of remedying those issues for season four, she’s chosen to ignore them in lieu of making the same mistakes all over again. “Grey’s Anatomy” used to be fun to watch (thanks to the frivolity of its cast), but ever since the excellent second season, the show has become far too maudlin – like a daytime soap, only with better actors and a bigger budget.
Now that the interns have passed their residency exams, Seattle Grace’s newest doctors are eager to begin their careers. Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) has chosen to follow Derek (Patrick Dempsey) into neurology, but when their relationship capsizes for the umpteenth time, they are forced to deal with their sexual tension in an unusual way. Christina (Sandra Oh), meanwhile, is still fully invested in becoming a cardiothoracic surgeon, but when news hits that Burke has left for good, his replacement, Dr. Erica Hahn (Brooke Smith), doesn’t treat her with the same respect. Instead, Hahn takes Izzie (Katherine Heigl) under her wing, despite the fact that Izzie is too caught up in her affair with George (T.R. Knight) to concentrate. And when George finally does break things off with Callie (Sara Ramirez) in order to pursue a relationship with Izzie, they’re surprised to discover that their chemistry isn’t as electric as they remember.
To all showrunners looking for a surefire way to waste half a season and halt the development of two of your best characters: look no further than the George-Izzie debacle. It’s bad enough that George’s arc was already stunted by making him redo his internship, but at least there was a point to that – namely, to give Meredith’s fresh-faced half-sister, Lexi (Chyler Leigh), someone to bond with. But why did the writers even bother breaking up George and Callie if the other relationship wasn’t going to work either? There’s certainly an argument as to why you would want to put a character through such an experience, but when they come away from it completely unchanged, the whole setup feels like a waste of time.
George and Izzie aren’t the only characters stuck in lame story arcs. Dr. Bailey (Chandra Wilson) must choose between work and family when her husband threatens to leave her (a subplot that was used last year, and continues this season, with James Pickens Jr.’s chief of medicine); Karev (Justin Chambers) is stuck dealing with his unconventional relationship with Rebecca/Ava (guest star Elizabeth Reaser); and Sloan (Eric Dane) has been turned into little more than a two-dimensional man-whore whose season highlight is convincing Callie that she’s sexually attracted to Hahn. And as if that weren’t enough, the Seattle Grace team is put through some of the most ridiculous medical disasters yet. Rhimes and Co. have been known to take things too far, but season four is the breaking point. I understand that certain events need to be dramatized in order to hold viewer interest, but no hospital in the world sees this many strange cases in a year, let alone a lifetime. In just a handful of the 17 episodes, a patient cuts off his foot with a chainsaw, Bailey and Christina perform surgery on a white supremacist who just so happens to have a giant swastika tattoo on his stomach, and in the two-part season finale, a teenager gets encased in concrete while trying to impress a girl.
What’s perhaps most upsetting is that "Grey's Anatomy" has the potential to be so much better. The brief moments of humor certainly make it a little easier to sit through (like when Izzie deals with an elderly comatose patient who has awaken with a death wish in “Let the Truth Sting,” or when Bailey proves her knowledge of “Star Wars” by comparing the “concrete boy” to Han Solo in “Freedom”), but the main reason why the fourth season isn't a complete washout is because of the new series regulars. Sure, the return of Kate Walsh for an episode is a treat for the fans, and guest star Seth Green does a fine job in the show's emotional two-parter "Crash Into Me," but it's ultimately the new lady docs who save the day. Like Sara Ramirez before, Brooke Smith, Chyler Leigh and Lauren Stamile (as Derek's new girlfriend, Rose) are great additions to the cast. Leigh, in particular, has so much room to grow as a character that I’m actually tempted to watch the show when it returns. Of course, they’re going to have to do something a little better than pairing Lexi with George to keep me interested, so here’s hoping Rhimes is taking notes.
Special Features: You can blame the writers’ strike all you want, but the Blu-ray release of season four is a bit of a letdown on the extras front. Only three audio commentaries appear across the 17 episodes, and each one features only one actor (Chyler Leigh, Lauren Stamile and Sandra Oh) to a track. Also included is a short featurette on the new female characters (“New Docs on the Block”), another bit on Patrick Dempsey and Eric Dane, and a look at some of the cast and crew’s favorite moments from the season (“Good Medicine”). Rounding out the set is a handful of deleted scenes (“Dissecting Grey’s Anatomy”), outtakes (“In Stitches”), and a recap of the first three seasons (“One Quick Cut”). Blu-ray owners also get access to the SeasonPlay feature, which tracks where you are in the season by episode and time, while both HD and DVD sets include a timeline insert tracking the progression of the major storylines from season one through season four.