Ask Matt: Did ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Go too Deep Into COVID?

Grey's Anatomy Ellen Pompeo
Grey's Anatomy

Welcome to the Q&A with TV critic — also known to some TV fans as their “TV therapist” — Matt Roush, who’ll try to address whatever you love, loathe, are confused or frustrated or thrilled by in today’s vast TV landscape. (We know background music is too loud, but there’s always closed-captioning.)

One caution: This is a spoiler-free zone, so we won’t be addressing upcoming storylines here unless it’s already common knowledge. Please send your questions and comments to [email protected] (or use the form at the end of the column) and follow me on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush). Look for Ask Matt columns on many Tuesdays and Fridays.

Are COVID Storylines Now Dated?

Question: As we progress into our second year with COVID-19, I’m wondering if the producers that decided to bring the pandemic into their storylines weren’t prepared for the vaccines to come along so quickly. Last week, 9-1-1 aired an episode where they went to a hospital in Los Angeles that was still overwhelmed with patients. And in Grey’s Anatomy, they seem to still be in the early days of COVID. These storylines don’t seem as current as they would have been two months ago. I also have to say that the COVID story line with Meredith is getting boring and too drawn out. Do you think Hollywood overestimated the length of the pandemic and didn’t see the optimism that is now growing in our country? Did a show like Grey’s go too far in on Covid? — Steve

Matt Roush: When the pandemic is truly behind us — I pray soon (just got my first shot, so empathetic with the more optimistic mindset) — it will be interesting to look back at how shows did and didn’t address the pandemic. For those who decided to go all in, like Grey’s, the thing to remember is that we’re not watching their world in real time, and production and scheduling hiatuses further impeded the show’s ability to accelerate the storytelling. That said, I’m weary as well of Meredith in her Banana Republic “safe space” in Malibu limbo and hope she comes out of it soon. I get that many of us are experiencing an extreme case of COVID exhaustion in life and in the media, but of all genres, a medical drama should be allowed to explore the impact of COVID on its staff thoroughly and at as much length as they deem necessary. However we choose to react to that is up to the viewer, but I can’t criticize them for the effort. (I’m still amazed that The Good Doctor jumped into a post-COVID world after two episodes, but again, that’s their prerogative.)

It seems to me that the producers of these shows had to be aware of the development and imminent distribution of the vaccine while these episodes were being produced. But as we know (or should know), it’s not the end of the story quite yet, and I imagine we’ll see the vaccine play into some of these narratives at some point.

Is Casey Heading Toward the Fire Exit?

Question: The Chicago Fire fans are incredibly worried about the rumors that Jesse Spencer is leaving Chicago Fire when this season is over! Have you heard anything along those lines? Surely they need to announce it soon to prepare fans for flooding their main character! — Millie

Question: It is becoming increasingly obvious now with this current storyline that Jesse Spencer is leaving Chicago Fire after this season. He will be leaving to be with Gabby in Puerto Rico, that much is clear. I’m just curious and worried as to how you think the show will survive without their main character? Some shows can make it, but I just feel that without Matt Casey Chicago Fire doesn’t work. — Emily

Matt Roush: To borrow and mangle an old expression, let’s not put the fire cart in front of the horse just yet. I can’t comment on rumors, which are common any time the contract is up for a lead actor on a long-running show — this is causing Mark Harmon/NCIS fans sleepless nights as well. Since Casey’s latest injury, the rumor mill has revved up in overdrive, and while there are clearly avenues laid into the storyline to be able to write him out of the show, unless and until Jesse Spencer, the producers or the network make an announcement about Casey’s fate, all I can say is: Stay tuned.

A Million Reasons Not to Watch

Comment: In all my years of watching TV, I don’t think I’ve ever pulled the plug on a series in the middle of an episode, but I did last week when I paused and erased A Million Little Things from my DVR. I can’t stand it anymore. The relentless loop of character dysfunction, repeating mistakes and the somber plotlines reached a crescendo for me. I guess I should have known that a series which began with one main character halting his suicide when he found out his best friend HAD committed suicide should have been a big flashing red light right up front. The writers have been repeating beats like a drummer with one stick and a snare drum.

Example: Gary blew up one relationship, started another, nearly blew that up, righted the ship, then when fellow cancer survivor Maggie manages to get out of England (not that we saw a single exterior shot) only to discover that she’s pregnant by her Brit roommate and decides to abort it, Gary blows off a long-planned trip with new girlfriend Darcy for a long-gestating meet-up with her son. Because he doesn’t want his EX to be alone while she recuperates. He then shows up at Maggie’s in time to see the Brit roomie who somehow managed to get out of the UK before it shut down (from COVID) arriving at her apartment. He leaves, sends a toboggan to Darcy’s son at the lodge, but for some reason, sprung from what he felt to be his obligation to his ex, DOESN’T COME ALONG WITH IT! Meanwhile, ex-druggie musician Eddie, now an Oxy addict for his pain after being hit by a car, contacts the druggie singer he was working with — expressly to get drugs from HER. She calls him out on it and walks away, only to show up later after he did a great job with her cover of an old tune, to ENABLE him by supplying him with more Oxy. And that’s ONE episode’s worth of crazy. — Michael E

Matt Roush: Just last week, I suggested they might think about renaming the series A Million Little Woes. I was half-joking, but seriously, I wouldn’t blame anyone for bailing on the show these days. (You didn’t even mention Rome causing havoc at his wife’s struggling restaurant because he needed something to do after his downer of an autobiographical movie was shut down by the pandemic.) Right now, I’m pretty much still watching only for Eddie’s adorable kid, Theo, who sometimes seems the most mature person in any given room.

Should Nancy Be Saying Grace Over Most Wanted?

Question: I recently watched the March 15 premiere of the America’s Most Wanted revival that airs on Fox. Elizabeth Vargas did a decent job as host. I understand that Nancy Grace currently hosts America’s Most Wanted Overtime, an extension series available on the Fox Nation streaming service. No offense to Vargas, but why isn’t Nancy Grace hosting the parent series? Like John Walsh, the host of the original America’s Most Wanted, Nancy lost a loved one to violent crime and has been passionate about supporting victims’ rights. — Chris

Matt Roush: Nancy Grace is also a more polarizing figure in the culture, which may be why Fox went with the safer choice of a veteran TV journalist with a background in newsmagazines (Dateline NBC, 20/20) that specialize in true crime.

The Jeopardy of Guest-Hosting Jeopardy!

Comment: I’m surprised not to see more comments on Katie Couric‘s guest hosting job on Jeopardy! these last few weeks. She is my husband’s and my least favorite guest host so far. It seems as though she means well, but comes across like, “I’m so sorry you’re too stupid to know the answer to the question” (or actually the question to the answer). She appears to be a bit snobbish, too. Even though she’s a great newsperson, her guest-hosting abilities need work. Ken Jennings is still the #1 guest host so far, which still surprises us how good he is at it. However, we don’t like him or Brad Rutter or James Holzhauer on The Chase. They’re much too mean, which ruins their star like/hero qualities from Jeopardy! We’d rather see a different “genius” for the contestants to beat on The Chase than those three champions. — Barbara

Matt Roush: We’ve addressed the Chase dilemma at length in this space, and I basically agree that whatever gains the show got in star power by casting the Jeopardy! veterans as the rotating “Chasers,” there was just as much if not more blowback about them tarnishing their images by putting on those haughty airs, even in jest.

As for the Jeopardy! guest hosts, if it’s nasty comments you want, I’m sure there are places to find them. Katie Couric even admitted during her run that hosting the show was hard, and my mail has been split pretty evenly between those who liked her or those who found ways to disapprove. (Snobbish, really?) Tone is a difficult thing for TV hosts to master, and in a fast-moving quiz show like Jeopardy!, the learning curve is steep. There were many who also had issues with Ken and with Mike Richards, but I’ll remain mostly neutral on this front for the duration, because everyone’s coming into this process with the best of intentions, raising money for charity while keeping the show going and honoring Alex Trebek. I’ve been the most impressed with Ken Jennings so far, but Katie is a pro and to me had a perfectly fine and positive attitude, and until Jeopardy! announces a permanent game plan going forward, I see no reason to pile on. (And maybe not even then.)

No Fan of This Mom

Comment: I think you skimmed over the recent comment about Mom. I agree with Eleanor — the Bonnie character is nasty and the definition of a bully. The way she speaks to Wendy is borderline abusive. Isn’t this show supposed to be a celebration of women? I actually switched off a few years back because of the character. This Chuck Lorre-style of humor is very dated in the world we live in today and actually celebrating things people shouldn’t do. At least with 2 Broke Girls we expected it to be trash. You put this show up on a massive pedestal but have been very harsh on a lot of other comedies — you were unnecessarily critical to Call Me Kat recently. which at least wants to be happy. Mom is just an excuse for Allison Janney to play the same sarcastic, mean-spirited role she kind of has been playing for years. It’s a shame because I really do like the supporting cast of Mom a lot. Glad to see it go. — Sean

Matt Roush: You’ll get your wish soon enough (May 13). But I disagree that I “skimmed over” Eleanor’s query about Bonnie. (To do that, I would have chosen not to publish it.) I merely chose not to disagree with her assessment, or at least to try to explain why Bonnie is the way she is and why some find humor in what others find offensive. Where I really take issue is in dismissing Allison Janney’s range just because she’s had a long run with Mom, where she triumphed at the Emmys and then won an Oscar for playing another distinct and unpleasant character (in I, Tonya). My take on Mom is that it was always a risky move for Chuck Lorre and his fellow creators to attempt a comedy about addiction that would find big laughs in a bleak situation. As for Call Me Kat, I was just doing my job in expressing an honest opinion about a show that disappointed me on several levels of execution. Its intent is honorable, but if you want to see it done right — or, at least, better — check out Miranda, the British original (streaming on Hulu).

And Finally …

Question: Do you know why CBS canceled the show Broke with Pauley Perrette and the Hispanic family in it? It was a great and funny show and ended rather weirdly. I would really like to know if CBS could bring it back or add more seasons. – Carly Sue

Matt Roush: That’s a blast from the recent past (spring 2020 to be precise). Broke didn’t live up to ratings expectations, especially for a show featuring one of the network’s formerly biggest stars, and there wasn’t much critical support as well. With only 13 episodes produced before it was canceled, there simply isn’t any momentum on any front to revive a show like this.

That’s all for now. We can’t do this without your participation, so please keep sending questions and comments about TV to [email protected] or shoot me a line on Twitter (@TVGMMattRoush), and you can also submit questions via the handy form below. (Please include a first name with your question.)