Grey’s Anatomy, more commonly referred to as Grey’s, has easily been one of television’s most iconic shows since the pilot season began in March 2005. Now, more than 15 years later, the medical drama remains one of the top ten longest-running scripted television shows in the United States with its current standing at 16 seasons and season 17 in production.
Grey’s has also had a long-standing history of using the show for political commentary on pressing social issues such as gun reform, racial biases, affordable healthcare, the LGBTQIA+ community and numerous others. This has caused quite a few stirs in the past, as some audience members don’t appreciate these underlying political tones; however, most of the show’s producers, actors and writers fully support the use of their platform to highlight these problems.
During the early quarantine months, when Krista Vernoff, an executive producer of Grey’s Anatomy, had said they would be addressing COVID-19 in season 17, it was not necessarily unexpected, and as she put it: “there’s no way to be a long-running medical show and not do the medical story of our lifetimes.” The inclusion of the pandemic as a plot in the show is where the controversy stems from. Before the production of each new season, the show’s writers typically schedule meetings with real doctors to learn more about the ins and outs of the medical emergencies that they will be depicting in that season; Vernoff stated that, during the meetings for this season, this process “felt more like therapy” than fun storytelling and discussions.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 era in March, the pandemic has quickly become a heavily controversial topic, so it’s not surprising that its inclusion in a fictional medical drama is bound to upset some of its audience members. Some are offended by the simple inclusion of what they believe to be a political hoax, and others are not thrilled with having to relive this time through their entertainment. It has already infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives, and we might not be ready to go through it all again—especially when this ‘era’ truly hasn’t even passed, and it doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. For example, healthcare workers—who have already criticized the show for years for being inaccurate and misrepresenting the medical field—might not be thrilled to see the pandemic as a side story to the drama in the show rather than the tragedy it is.
Personally, I’m extremely interested to see how the creators of Grey’s represent the insanity of our current situation within the show, and whether they’re going to do it in a tasteful way that highlights the sacrifices that healthcare and frontline workers have gone (and are still going) through. Ellen Pompeo, the lead actress in the show who plays protagonist Meredith Grey, recently shared an Instagram post announcing that the cast and crew had begun filming season 17; in the post, she also pays her respects to the healthcare workers that have been lost during this crisis, writing “I hope we do you proud.”
Despite the show’s return to production, it is unclear as of now when the exact release date of season 17 will be, as the past schedule has been postponed due to the stall in filming that began in April. However, ABC has still reserved the nine o’clock slot on Thursday nights for the show’s comeback. In the meantime, you can catch me re-watching the series (all 16 seasons of which are available on Netflix) in preparation for the roller coaster of emotions, drama and controversy we are inevitably in store for once the show returns.