"Pick me. Choose me. Love me." These words, uttered by Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) in the second season of ABC's Thursday night powerhouse Grey's Anatomy, reveal much of what is corrupt and what is alluring about the show millions of viewers (primarily women) tune in to each week.
The biggest problem with Grey's Anatomy is that it portrays young doctors engaging in all manner of sexual immorality without suggesting that there's anything wrong with their behavior. But one thing the show got right: the emotional fallout female characters suffer as a result.
Sexual sin arguably has a steeper price for women than for men. Beyond the physical vulnerability of possibly producing a child with a man who has no legal obligation to care for it is the emotional vulnerability of giving your body to a man who has not pledged to you his heart. Thus, the moment when Meredith turns the courtship ideal on its head and begs lover Derek (Patrick Dempsey) to commit to her is pathetic, heart-wrenching, and for many of today's young women, sadly relatable. This, along with first-rate acting, was what kept Grey's from slipping into irrelevant soap opera territory.
With the fifth season, though, the program has closed the door on even tiny slivers of light. And as a result, women seem to be slowly but significantly abandoning Grey's. The show is averaging several million fewer viewers this fall than last, with ratings hitting an all-time low the week of Oct. 25.
The new Meredith embodies a popular feminist fantasy. After the man she has pursued for three years finally offers her the glass slipper, saying, "I want to marry you," she diffidently responds, "I'm not ready right now." She suggests that they continue sleeping together without "defining their relationship."
There was a time when the conceit of the sexually independent female was new enough to appeal to young women. But Grey's 18-29 demographic is living through the "hooking-up" culture that resulted from that lie, and they know who bears the brunt of it.