Thursday, March 12, 2015

Drama vs. Melodrama

It’s been my habit of late to watch Sons of Anarchy while riding the exercise bike. One recent day The Sole Heir™ came home early (from graduate school in Georgetown, and—oh, by the way—has been accepted into the Quinnipiac University Medical School, in case I hadn’t mentioned it before) and was catching up on Grey’s Anatomy when I came down after work to ride. I’ve seen a few episodes in the past, which accounts for my philosophy of preferring to kill myself before being admitted to a hospital with anything serious—especially in Seattle—but the kid was there first and I don’t get to spend as much time with her as I like, so what the hell.

(First, some background. My favorite TV shows of anything like recent vintage are, my order of discovery: The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, and The Shield. A common denominator connects these shows in addition to crime. Now back to our regularly scheduled program.)

Watching Grey’s Anatomy in the context of my favorites showed me exactly what bothers me about such shows, and provided a stark definition of the differences between drama and melodrama. The four programs listed above are dramas: they show you shit and you can feel one way or the other about it, or you can miss the point. They have a perspective, but their job is to lead you to it, not beat you over the head with it.

Grey’s is melodrama. They wring every bit of pathos, bathos, and whatever other descending –oses you can think of from every scene. They distrust the audience’s ability to grasp how truly heart-wrenching and emotionally disastrous a given situation is. They explain it and milk it and exploit it until it borders on self-parody. Grey’s Anatomy is a clever title, but they could just as well called it As the Hospital Turns, since General Hospital is already in use. (Ah, but a measly general hospital could not possibly contain the heart-wrenching and emotionally disastrous situations to be found at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital. Or Seattle Grace Hospital. Possibly Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital. Whatever they’re calling it this year.
This joint has too many heart-wrenching and emotionally disastrous situations to be contained by a single name. This is where general hospitals send their patients to be saved and dramatic moderation to die.)

Compare this to what I consider to be the finest end of a dramatic series ever: The Shield. (Spoiler alert!) Vic Mackey spends the day in a cubicle alone. He looks out the window, sees police cars in pursuit. He
takes his gun from the drawer and goes home. No diaphanous flashbacks to good times with Shane and Lem and Ronnie, or with his wife and kids. No schmaltzy music. In fact, if I recall correctly, no music at all. His crimes have caught up with him. He’s lost everything he ever cared about. Then it’s over.

This is worse than prison for Vic. It might be worse than death. If you get it, great. If not? Fuck you. We didn’t write it for you.

I’ll take the drama, straight up, every time. I’m already a borderline diabetic.

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