TV, 2018, 3.5 stars
Created by: Stacy McKee
First Run: 2018- Still in production (6 Seasons)
Shondaland is a curious place. Grey’s Anatomy is the drippiest, most emotionally manipulative show on the planet, and people have loved it forever. Shonda Rhimes’s particular brand of soap opera meets action meets sex is one of the most successful television empires ever. Grey’s Anatomy is into its downright mind-boggling 19th season. So of course people would flock to its spinoff series about gorgeous firefighters… right?
Well, as it turns out, yes. There are so many crossovers between Station 19 and Grey’s Anatomy that you almost can’t watch one show without watching the other or else you’ll miss a storyline that’s vital to your favourite character in one or the other show.
Station 19 has, however, managed to forge a path all its own that’s distinct from its parent show, and garnered its own independent legion of fans. I can’t decide if it is because of, or in spite of, Station 19 becoming an unashamed, preachy mouthpiece for left-wing politics. Grey’s is more medical and romantic. While Station 19 has staged its fair share of mass set pieces to showcase the first responders in action, a large part of the show is set around characters responding personally to real-world issues of the day. This has been particularly noticeable from season three onwards with a new showrunner at the helm.
In terms of issues, there’s been the pandemic, obviously. There was George Floyd’s death and Black Lives Matter. The Say Her Name campaign gets a whole episode. There’s police brutality, racism in the fire department, and a look at the misogyny that’s rampant within firefighting. There’s queer politics, gay marriage and parenthood, single parenthood, drug addiction, domestic violence, and homelessness. One episode takes on immigration, which caused a stir when Sullivan compared ICE with Nazism.
It doesn’t matter what the issue is, Station 19 drives its characters and their politics to the left. There’s not a single significant character that’s shown to have a balancing political voice, which in a hyper-conservative environment like firefighting (even in Seattle) that seems nonsensical. There’s no room for dissent that isn’t roundly criticised and demonised, and monologues that drive socially-conscious points home. Not that I personally mind but I’m a viewer strongly aligned to progressive politics. Not all of Shondaland’s vast audiences might feel the same.
Let’s face it though, whatever sins Station 19 has, it also has Maya Bishop (Danielle Savre). I have many problems with the character, but damn I just love her. By the end of season five Maya became an entirely different person to the raw recruit we meet in season one. She’s gone from being emotionally stunted, career driven, competitive and unpleasant, to someone who makes huge sacrifices for the people around her, faces up to her childhood trauma, falls in love with a beautiful woman, and comes 360 on the ideas of marriage and motherhood. Then, season six ripped that all apart. Joy.
If you really think about it, Maya’s character trajectory is, however, one of the most “conservative” things on the show. Aside from her status as a female firefighter, she’s not transgressive at all. She’s following an extreme path into tamed normality. This isn’t so weird in itself, but the speed through which she goes through these transitions is dizzying. Maya often goes from being adamantly opposed to things to being passionately for them in a single episode. Her entire character arc with Carina Deluca (Stefania Spampinato) is sexy and satisfying, but it’s also rushed. We got four seasons worth of character development within one and a half, then within a couple of episodes they attempted to destroy it. Watch this space.
Maya’s about face on having kids is a classic example. Due to time leaps from season 4 to 5, we skip through the first 11 months of Maya’s marriage to Carina. Within their first year they’re already arguing about kids. Then, for the first time in her firefighting career apparently, Maya suddenly meets some children. They are cute enough to rip away a lifetime of emphatic belief that she does not want kids.
This is not the first time in Shondaland history that a woman has about-faced dramatically on having kids. Just in Grey’s Anatomy alone, think Arizona Robbins, Cristina Yang, Amelia Shepherd and (ironically) Carina Deluca. What is it about Shonda’s determination to make all women into mothers? Being queer does not save you from this tripe. There’s socially progressive messaging everywhere, except in these women’s lives, where career goals are deemed not as important as conservative attitudes towards childbearing.
I’ll always despise Chicago Fire for its blatant kill the gays transgressions, but if you were looking for a show that seems more true to the reality of firefighting, Chicago Fire is probably going to be more your speed. The firefighting in Station 19 is merely an elaborate macguffin, an excuse for all of these particular characters to come together to form a family. Underneath it all though are some very specific ideas about women’s roles that make me a bit queasy.
Shondaland shows are every bit as formulaic as Dick Wolf shows..Yes it’s exciting, yes it’s engaging, yes you cry big ugly tears almost every episode. She knows what works, she knows her (mostly female) audience, and she plays shamelessly to it. If you love it, you will love it. It’s downright addictive, and yet oddly problematic.