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Grey’s Spinoff May 9, 2007

Posted by erinsull in bitch, careerwomen, Female Power, Grey's Anatomy, Kate Walsh, women in television.

I just came across this interesting New York Times article about the new Grey’s Anatomy spin-off centered around Kate Walsh’s character Dr. Addison Montgomery (formally Sheppard as fans of the show are well aware). Being a fan of Grey’s I watched the 2-hour episode, which set up Addison’s new show. At 11 o’clock as the closing credits rolled I had this sense on dissatisfaction and annoyance but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. While Grey’s admittedly has its own issues (the title character Meredith is an extremely polarizing figure) I’d never had this kind of reaction to it. This article summed up a lot of the problems I had with the episode. Addison first appeared on the show at the end of season one as the ex wife of Meredith’s boyfriend, Dr. Sheppard (more commonly known as McDreamy but I can’t deal with that name). She was intimidating, a “coolly amused villainess” who was in town to challenge the show’s frail and often flaky heroine. Addison was sophisticated, beautiful, confident, and on top of all that a world-renowned surgeon. She could have easily been the character everyone loved to hate but the writers made her surprisingly likeable. She was a real woman, who while sometimes exuding perfection, made mistakes and had emotions. At first I commended this change, I liked that she wasn’t a one-note villain but someone who viewers could identify with.

However with recent plot twists Addison has become a shadow of her once intimidating self. As the articles’ author notes “her character evolved into a more likable colleague, but for some reason, that change required her to become dizzier, chattier and very much like the ever confused and self-doubting Meredith — and, of course, Ally McBeal”. She was prompted to leave Seattle Grace after she was scorned by two men (one an intern, another whom she had rejected many times I the past). What does it mean that to make the character more relatable (and thus able to carry her own show) the writers felt they had to make her flakier and far less self assure? The head writer and brains behind Grey’s Anatomy is a woman, did she feel this new Addison was necessary to appeal to a wider audience? I can’t really take her transformation as natural character development for one of the world’s foremost neonatologist. Was the original Addison just too powerful and confident, too much of a “bitch” to make people tune in and care week after week?

The article makes an interesting point about the other women on the show who are supposedly a more empowering portrayal of professionally successful women. It says “on “Grey’s Anatomy” at least two female characters, Christina (Sandra Oh) and Dr. Bailey (Chandra Wilson) have confidence, big egos and an ability to keep their sorrows to themselves most of the time”. They lie in contrast to the women on the spin-off who are “fragile and pitiable” and “prone to public displays of disaffection”. While I agree that it was tough to take watching these professional woman constantly overcome with emotion (mostly at the whim of men) I think it is interesting that the author puts such a high regard on women keeping their emotions to themselves. Is that key for women to exude a sense of power and control? Anyway the article is a really interesting look at the sometimes-disheartening portrayal of women even on “the most bourgeois women’s television shows.”



1. kelly - May 9, 2007

I think what’s interesting about the spin-off is the way the two main female characters handle each other’s emotions. For example, when Addison’s best friend talks about how her “perfect life” came crumbling down, Addison responds with something along the lines of “oh boo hoo hoo let’s make your life into a lifetime movie” or something. The show seems to mock these displays of emotion in an attempt to ensure that these women aren’t seen as weak or perhaps even to make them seem masculine.
At the same time, though, each and every female character of the new show has had an emotional breakdown by the end of the episode. Addison is only able to accomplish hers with the help of a man (of course, and a good looking love interest at that) and it takes her by surprise. It seems as though she has been denying it all this time in order to appear strong but really it has just welled up inside of her. This one scene really angered me since it implies that women always need to be emotional. If they aren’t, it is simply because they are hiding it to be like a man and sooner or later it will come pouring out. Sometimes a woman needs a man to help her find her true feminine, weak, emotional side.
While I do find it problematic that emotions are seen as a bad thing by the author of this article, I think the bigger issue is that a woman who doesn’t cry or breakdown is seen as un-feminine and as an unbelievable character. Why do female characters have to cry in order for us to like them and see them as real people?
I also don’t believe that Addison truly kept her emotions to herself when she was seen as a very strong character. In fact, that is perhaps the time when she let them show the most. While she was vulnerable in asking Derek to take her back (sorry if this is getting too much into the plot line), she was also seen as strong in that she was willing to admit her mistakes and go after what she wanted, even if it cost her her pride and “heart.” It’s simply that her emotions didn’t involve breakdowns or sobbing into people’s shoulders – the typical female display of emotions.

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