Grey's Anatomy - How to Save a Life

I'm going to get it out of the way up front... Shonda Rhimes is a genius. 

She is one of our generation's master TV story tellers. 

In this week's landmark episode of Grey's Anatomy, where Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) dies in a car accident, after having saved the lives of four others - we see the masterful hand at work.

A lot has been said about the latest turns of events in this medical drama by fans - many loud angry sobbing voices online, but as Patrick Dempsey and the team agree, it was time. It was the right thing to happen for the themes they are exploring.

The show is, after all, called Grey's Anatomy. Dr Meredith Grey played by Ellen Pompeo, in a stroke of devotion for the craft of acting, doesn't pursue celebrity, so practically exists only in this parallel story world. This enables Pompeo to deliver each episode a rapturous performance, often under praised and under appreciated. Sometimes her character in the last few seasons acts like a kind of scaffolding for the more colourful Yang's, McDreamy, McSteamy etc, tableau which attracts more obvious fan affection.

When Sandra Oh's character, Dr Christina Yang left Seattle last season, she said to Dr Meredith Grey, 'Yes, he's very dreamy, but you are the sun'. 

Shonda Rhimes has been on record saying that Grey's Anatomy was never about Meredith and Derek's love story, it was always about Meredith and Christina, the twisted sisters. Their love story.

Long before Frozen's feminist stance on sisterly love, what it means to be there for 'your person', Grey's Anatomy was meditating on this weekly. 

Who are your people? And, who are you?

The tension last season between Meredith and Christina was an accusation that Mere wasn't into her career, that she'd chosen motherhood and that she needs to accept the costs associated with that. 'Bad Ass' is how Grey's would say it. That Meredith couldn't possibly expect to be as 'Bad Ass' (excellent) as Christina, because she chose motherhood and that comes with a certain amount of sacrifice and energy, so accept it. The tension was that Meredith wouldn't. It was a challenging mirror to be held up to Meredith, but it was ringing a truth within. How does anyone do both, or either, exceedingly well? Is it possible?

In this season we've seen Meredith go it alone, really. Looking around her, trying to pull together her professional dreams, with reconciling her wishes to be a present and excellent mother (as her mother was not), while of course needing the relationship with her husband Derek to mature, to that of support for her dreams. 

So, it shouldn't really have been, 'Going it alone'. She had Derek right there and she'd sacrificed a lot to become a mother to their two children for the previous 2 years. However, just as they had agreed to allow Meredith to pursue her research and get back into her working life, Derek too had a professional offer he couldn't refuse. The President had personally asked him to lead a once in a lifetime brain mapping project, in Washington DC. 

This season, we saw their relationship falter and Meredith insist that Derek not stay for her, but to go to DC and do what he wanted to do. Through extraordinary hardship, she pulled through managing her children and a streak of over 80 consecutive patients who lived due to her surgical decisions. 

Dr Meredith Grey came to the discovery that it's not that she needed Derek, it's that she wanted Derek.

It's a big difference and a truly enlightened meditation on relationship. That at best, they are choices, not codependencies. 

Derek's lightning moment was when he was able to ask himself 'When did clipping an aneurysm become not enough?' It's an important question for all excellent career climbers. You can shoot to the stars, but when did you stop being content with excellent, just where you are?

Will you regret not enough time with your partner, not enough time with your children. Finding that balance is the quest. To be fulfilled professionally and to be with your people.

It's going to circle back to Meredith. When you lose the person you love with your whole soul, will you regret choices where you didn't take every opportunity to be with that person?

Or, can she release herself and try to find meaning for her life - going it alone?

I'm very interested to see where this goes in the next chapter of Grey's Anatomy. 

What will Meredith take from this? What will her learnings be?

Thank you Shonda. Thank you.

Grey's Anatomy 

Grey's Anatomy 

House of Cards s3 and Netflix in Australia

Stan, Presto, Netflix - Australia has finally got a timely offer of internet TV, to add to our national collective ABC iView obsession. 

Last night my husband turned to me and said - "So it's $9.50 per month for Netflix here, shall we?" In our case this question was mostly rhetorical, it was always going to be yes.

It's easily worth this to me to see season 3 of House of Card (even if we cancel later- which we won't) and given I am holding my breath for Homeland to return, my need for meaty drama will have to be satiated by Netflicks and HoC s3. 

A lot's been written in the Australian press about Stan, Presto and Netflix but the thing that amuses me the most when I look at all the commentary, is how people want to complain about the titles on offer. 

"There's not as much choice as the US Netflix store."

"It's all just old stuff, we've seen before."

I find it so funny that Australian bloggers and mainstream Digital/Television media keep returning to this issue - when it's super simple.

Content - be it TV or Digital needs initial production investment funds to be created. Until Netflix's original commissioning of House of Cards, it's been TV that's pulled together these investments to produce original content. Here's the crucial part - financing relies on international territory sales to get a return on production investments. So, you sell content rights, territory by territory e.g.: Australia, Europe, the Middle East or sometimes country by country, to recover investments and make profits, after something has been made.

Alternatively productions will gather pre-sales for international territories (which are larger initial investment amounts) that help raise the production costs and guarantee simultaneous broadcast times in these territories, when financing the original content. However, they'll still try to sell licences, after content has been produced, to make profits. This business model is the reason for a lag in release times, for content availability upon different platforms and in different regions around the world.

Ok, that might be a dense couple of paragraphs, but was that too hard to explain? I just don't believe that Australian audiences are incapable of understanding the business of television. If critics and bloggers would care to make this point, they could then help move the conversation to more pressing concerns.

Instead of echoing toddler style rants 'I want Game of Thrones, now - for free', how about - 'how do we spell broadband network and will it be good enough?' Brrrooooowwwddd Baaaaannnndddd. 

As Foxtel have struggled with, Australian's typically want something for nothing. We want all of our content and we want it now and we want it for free. A luxury that grownups in other content territories around the world, realise is not always possible. Perhaps unlike the British, who are aware of paying a TV licence and therefore feel a huge sense of ownership over their beloved BBC, Australian's respond differently to what's on offer in our territory beyond what their tax dollars un-specifically contributes to.

The people's love for the ABC brand is a well documented fact, but they simultaneously love the rest of commercial free view content, (or is that - 'love to hate' TV). Australia's love to announce how much they hate TV (unlike the British who proudly love it), but Aussies in the privacy of their homes, still watch - still engage - still vote for the latest Idol and are fairly agnostic about the spectrum of subject matter, from entertainment, to food competitions, sports and other genre's on offer. 

Sometimes you could imagine the Australian audience as a middle aged bloke on the couch with his arms folded saying "ok then, try to please me." At odds with the casting of Australia's Gogglebox, but nonetheless a collective mood in the Australian audience prevails - "do your best and by the way, I'm probably not going to pay for it."

So, I wonder how many people will pay for STAN, PRESTO and or NETFLICKS, plus a Foxtel Subscription, while switching their internet enabled HD screens into the Freeview mode for easier access to the multichannel environment and still fork out for cinema tickets. As we watch the price of electricity go up and our broadband subscriptions get pushed to the ends of data limits, pay world city prices for real estate, education, health insurance, as we debate the merits of GST increases - I am curious, what choices will Aussie's prioritise? 

Where will people see value? The time of an average family is pretty limited, while consuming vast amounts of content on one hand, on another they haven't had time to give 50 hours to all the great TV drama's they might have. Perhaps it's worth paying for old stuff they haven't seen yet, and well 'serviced' media critics who make it their business to see everything, may not be in the best place to understand what perceived value there is, in curating back catalogue for subscription services.

In any case, loud voices will continue to shout in Aussie accents at STAN, PRESTO and Netflix - "Boring! I've seen all that!" Which may be so loud, their neighbours won't make the choice at all. Who even has the time, to fill out another profile/credit card sign up service? The very same people who don't have time to login and cancel the subscription down the line. On the balance of this, I think there's some hope for these services.

I eagerly await the unfolding of time and the last instalment from G.R.R Martin on any medium!

Regarding HOUSE OF CARDS series 4

I was generally disappointed but addicted.  I feel the problem was balancing the high stakes and any wins for the Underwoods. It was totally lacking. The series charted #fail for the couple, for their first term as President and First Lady/ Diplomat.

I found it entirely unbelievable that Clare Underwood (Robin Wright) would melt down about her relationship with Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), in the White House. It was petulant and not in character for the masters of goal setting. Surely they would have realised - they've arrived. 

This could only be leading to Season 5 's drama, swinging around the theme, that they are their only equal adversary. That nothing inflicted externally can compare for the damage they can do mutually. So perhaps it's failing was that the series is on it's way to another series, but I was disappointed by the writing.


House of Cards - Netflicks

House of Cards - Netflicks

America's Next Top Model + Australia's Next Top Model

Cycle 21 of Tyra Banks' America's Next Top Model is proving that the addition of guys to the girls in competition, wasn't just a gimmick for Cycle 20. A landmark for the format having reached twenty series, it's very admirable. 

Having guys and girls in competition, is a matter of 'no return' for the series. The dramas of in house romances, the exploration of gender stereotypes and eye candy for all, will certainly endure.

It will be interesting to see when the Australian version of this format will evolve to gender equality.

In 2014 the format in Australia hit an all time high with the addition of Jennifer Hawkins filling the shoes of Tyra Banks, here. 

In 2015 we are poised to see an exciting range of guest judges in the Australian format, including Kim Kardashian and most importantly Tyra herself.

For fans of the show having Jen and Tyra side by side will be rapture.


Boardwalk Empire S5 - When the only way forward is back.

It starts, but way back at the beginning.

In episode one, season 5 of HBO's Boardwalk Empire, we see the formative years for Nucky Thompson, intercut with 'present day' Cuba and the beginning of his come back.

For all that Steve Bescumi's character has endured it is fascinating to see how the boy became the man.

We see from his mother, he received education, an interest in the world and perhaps his tender heart. From his father, we saw cruel pride and the fact he must get ahead in this life. We learn that not only does Nucky have little brother Eli to look out for, but also a very sick little sister with whom Nucky can also tenderly talk about dreams and wishes. We see that the whole family is saddened and touched by the illness of the youngest Thompson sibling.

We also see Nucky first fall into association with The Commodore, who has really pulled all the strings for the recent generation.

Bring on ep 2! 


Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire


True Detective - How the extras help the experience.

I don't enjoy watching murder mysteries for fun. In terms of subject matter, I find it hard to care about the 'why' in the case of serial killers on TV. Often the insanity portrayed on screen, amounts to meme pollution I'd rather avoid.

In the case of True Detective series 1, written by Nic Pizzolatto and commissioned by HBO, we see two Louisiana State Police homicide detectives hunt for a serial killer across 17 years. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson offer fascinating performances and technical characterisation to this series' murky story world. 

As a content choice, it's not that this scenario wasn't interesting, it's just that I don't want the 'experience'. As we know, a TV series is a significant investment of time and viscerally quite immersive. Seeing crime scenes and disturbing motifs may not be on the surface particularly fun, I need constant reminders that it's all just scaffolding for bigger themes and ideas. 

To watch a genre I don't enjoy, I need to sort out quickly what the text's trying to explore, so that I can pull myself out of the immersive experience and think about how the filmmaking elements are working together to make this happen.

After watching the first two episodes of True Detectives and feeling a bit spooked (i.e.: fascinated but not enjoying the icky stuff), I found myself searching for interviews with the filmmakers - it's not that I wasn't getting a lot from the show, it's just that I need more to continue happily. 

Writer Nic Pizzolatto and Director Cary Joji Fukunaga provided excellent commentary about each episode, that flowed seamlessly after the end credits on an iTunes/Apple TV experience. This way of watching drama, i.e.: key text plus commentary, is hardly that of a marginal few viewers. As we saw with online views of Game of Thrones, most people not waiting for the linear traditional broadcast would always get the opportunity to view the bookend filmmaker videos, if they are served in the way HBO did with True Detective.

However, for me, these filmmaker videos/promos, were hitting the plot points too carefully, perhaps helping audiences navigate the significance of each lead the detectives were following up. I found this forced us to revisit the gruesome images I was trying to avoid. When I searched further, I found this excellent link to Marian St. Laurent's fascinating meditation on the themes in True Detective. She especially was interested in charting what the series was saying about America.

Thinking about the 'America as afterimage' definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the series. I found myself watching more carefully, thinking more about the motifs and landscape montages, loving the opening title sequence even more and finding more precisely, during the suspenseful parts that it was worth waiting to see how Rust and Hart would reconcile the experiences they were having in the story.

I found Matthew McConaughey's portrayal of Rustin Cohle utterly captivating. A deep and reflective reticence that makes you think still waters run deep. To understand what you get from Rust there's no need to go beyond the cue his detective partner Hart - Woody Harrelson offers: "He's real quiet, he doesn't talk much, until you want him to shut the fuck up". 

If storytellers want to go off into dark worlds, we all need characters like Hart to keep us pinned to a safe marker of reality we think we know. Harrelson's portrayal of the macho cop, of course does have a shadow side we discover. His release is sex and through the inversion of the 'good' cop we thought was the sane one, we see that there are shadow sides of, well, anything.

For True Detective, as the filmmakers say and as the series re-confirms at the end, is about light vs dark.

In the final scene, we see Matthew McConaughey's character Rust, say to Harrelson's Hart "It's just one story, the oldest. Light versus dark". He goes on to finally assert, "If you ask me, light's winning." 

Doing 'extras' for TV drama, feature film etc isn't new. We loved MadMen's video extra's where the cast and creator Matthew Weiner talked about what was happening for the characters in each scene or stage of their lives. Since AMC did this, it's all very standard to get access to 'what's going on!' from the filmmakers, but for me the original and the best deep discussion about content was Shonda Rhime's podcasts about early seasons of Grey's Anatomy.

The writers would talk for sometimes up to an hour about the significance of each challenge for the scene and the story. In this, was an exhilarating reverberation of meaning and importance which was sometimes more satisfying then the original episodes. Again, whatever you think about Grey's Anatomy, if it's not a genre you particularly like, thinking about more than just 'what happened' narratively, but rather - what is this actually about, give us a chance to - dive deeper into the meta-stories, or see clearly the bigger clues of how storytelling processes our human experience. Done well, this can serve to make richer the original text.