Illustration of a Grey's Anatomy character.
Although it can be fun to see beloved characters reappear on our screens in a new light, fans of the extended Shondaland universe have mixed feelings on the matter. (Illustration by Aiyana Kline, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

Is ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Still Relevant After 18 Seasons?

While the American medical drama series is known for how long it’s been on the air, many are beginning to wonder how (and when) its characters’ storylines will truly end.

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Illustration of a Grey's Anatomy character.

While the American medical drama series is known for how long it’s been on the air, many are beginning to wonder how (and when) its characters’ storylines will truly end.

“Grey’s Anatomy” first aired in March 2005 and has since released 18 seasons. The Shonda Rhimes television series started with the lives of Meredith Grey and her fellow interns but has since lost most of its original cast. However, Ellen Pompeo (who plays the female lead Meredith) has yet to leave the show, allowing the series to continue.

Airing for 16 years, “Grey’s Anatomy” has gone through several changes, from new characters coming and old ones leaving. For example, Addison Montgomery, played by Kate Walsh, was one of the first additions to the cast in the Season 1 finale and remained a regular on the show until Season 3, when she left for Shonda Rhimes’ television series “Private Practice.” Dr. Preston Burke also leaves “Grey’s Anatomy” at the end of Season 3, causing major changes in the show’s cast.

A lot of the changes that occur in the cast affect current characters’ love lives, at least for the most part. In Season 5, Owen Hunt, played by Kevin McKidd, joins “Grey’s Anatomy” to replace Burke’s role as Cristina Yang’s love interest. By Season 18, only five of the original cast members remain, two of which are only semi-original characters.

Rhimes had also left “Grey’s Anatomy” by Season 18, handing over the reins to Krista Vernoff for both “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Station 19.” Rhimes has left ABC to work with Netflix, though the show is still owned by Shondaland.

Vernoff starts off Season 18 with a crossover of both shows, and while “Grey’s Anatomy” has been around for 16 years, “Station 19” is relatively new to ABC and only five seasons into its run. This may answer the question as to why the series has chosen to do a crossover. As “Station 19” has only begun to experience some popularity, there may not have been a better opportunity for a crossover later down the line. This is also not the only crossover the writers have put in the series, and Episode 3 of Season 18 will star Walsh’s character yet again.

Even with all of Rhimes’ universes and characters coexisting, some of the actors have played roles as minor characters in other series. Sarah Drew stars in “Grey’s Anatomy” from Season 6 until Season 14 as April Kepner but also played Judy on Season 2 of “Private Practice.” With the crossovers, especially those of “Private Practice,” many reoccurring moments featuring these common actors only make Rhimes’ universe that much more confusing and questionable.

With only a select few shows surpassing the number of seasons belonging to “Grey’s Anatomy,” the series is still the longest airing medical drama. The ABC show that can still be seen on TV can also be streamed on Netflix and Hulu, showing the audience’s demand for the program. Best known for its medical storyline, it is also notable because of the romantic lives of the characters.

The pilot episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” starts with the two love interests Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd, played by Patrick Dempsey, already starting the plotline off with a bit of romance. Through the deaths of the show’s major and more minor characters, the show also breaks the audience’s hearts with the loss of their shipped characters. Through the many ups and downs of Meredith and Derek’s relationship, the two are still the main love interests even when the two are not together — although some may argue the dynamic between the two is not always the best, that would fall to the writing of Rhimes. Yet in Season 11 of the series, Meredith and the audience go through one of the hardest heartbreaks as both lose Derek.

Although fans could never forget Derek, Meredith had no trouble moving on as she started dating several guys since Season 11. None, however, have taken the place in the audience’s heart that belonged to Derek. In Season 18, Episode 1, fans are reacquainted with a character who previously had chemistry with Meredith in Season 14. Some even wonder if this will finally be the new McDreamy, and at this point, after seven seasons, it may be time now that Vernoff has taken over.

Until Meredith finally gets her happy ending, the show may continue. A big part of what has kept the audience coming back is their attachment to the characters, specifically Pompeo’s role. Fans have seen Meredith’s character grow from a troubled, “dark and twisty,” suicidal, broken young adult to a woman who pushed through her issues in a healthy manner. With this sort of realistic backstory, fans have no choice but to relate and grow attached, wanting only to see the character reach an ending they would truly be happy with.

Other characters on the show, like Meredith, all have their own issues and storylines they must push through and, in some way or another, have either achieved an ending fit for them or were left, unfortunately, for dead. Meredith may be the only character left still struggling to achieve closure, and who’s to say that when she does the show will end — for example, in Episode 1 of Season 18, where Meredith is offered a position at a different hospital that is almost too good to be true. This is the first time in the series that Meredith has been enticed to leave Seattle and move her practice elsewhere, leaving the audience to wonder if this may be the end of Pompeo’s screen time — if not the end of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

And while Meredith Grey’s story may possibly be coming to an end, it certainly may not be the end of Pompeo’s portrayal of Meredith. Rhimes still has a number of shows that are not yet caught up to 18 seasons and with the connecting universes, Pompeo could very likely guest star in “Private Practice” alongside Walsh for a refreshing change of pace. Though considering the popularity of the show and the high reviews Season 18 has received now that the series has entered a post-pandemic storyline, this could still be too far off in the future.

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Illusion Ventura

Whittier College
English and Psychology

I am an adventurous person trying to find my way in the world. I love reading and writing and try to do as much as I can in my free time.

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