Friday, March 13, 2015

Supershowrunner Shonda: the new St. Norman

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By Litchik

This post may contain spoilers. Catch up on your Shandows (Shonda Rhymes shows) before reading.

I'm not going to lie: I'm woefully out of touch with the zeitgeist. The only cool points I've earned lately come from knowing that Dora is older and has real friends and I know all of their names.

It's painful to admit that I simply don't have the time or energy to keep up. The snippets of info I get usually come from a quick glance at my Entertainment Weekly, the one non-parenting and non-academic activity I still cling to. That magazine and a handful of TV shows remain my tether to the pop culture spinning around me.

And one of those shows is still Grey's Anatomy.

I neither love nor hate Shonda Rhymes, the creator of Grey's, as well as Private Practice, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. Although I've only seen a few clips of those last two shows, I'm no less confident in my analysis: Shonda Rhymes just might be the most brilliant mind in television since Norman Lear. And the reasons are pretty simple.

First, she knows how to tell a story. This is not to say she is a wonderful writer. Or original. Or creative. Or always on the mark. In fact, the ramp has pulled up to the shark tank a number of times on Grey's, but the show still keeps plugging away. What Rhymes knows best is how to write to a television audience and keep them hooked. She rarely shocks me (was anyone surprised when Dr. Herman woke up from surgery but was blind?), but she does keep me coming back every week to see how everything plays out.

Second, she knows how to assemble excellent casts. Too many shows seem to think that their target audience will only accept white characters (I'm looking at you, Friends) or that having one or two nonwhite characters counts as diversity (I'm looking at you, Big Bang Theory). In contrast, Rhymes casts the best actors for the characters she's created. And those ensembles are always much better reflections of her audience than most shows out there today. She gets that one of the things we crave when we watch TV is a representation of ourselves, and she delivers.

Third, she knows the purpose of the medium. Sure, if you look hard enough, you'll see social commentary trickle through the background of some story arcs. (Olivia Pope telling her kidnappers to auction her off on Scandal? Don't even get me started.) But entertainment is her primary goal. Viola Davis peeling off her makeup on HTGAWM wasn't just a bold publicity stunt to call attention to our ridiculous cultural beauty standards: it was a powerful, raw and captivating scene in a carefully crafted storyline.

Shonda Rhymes has her detractors, but I'll continue to freely give her a few hours of my limited time each month. She's the real deal. 

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