All the good television shows are about work or family, but the great ones argue that they’re the same thing. (See: The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, etc.) So it’s easy to understand why Shonda Rhimes — the creator of ABC’s Thursday-night soaps Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal — blurs the lines between love and labor so wildly. She seems to believe that work is where you find your real family, and family requires more work than your real job — even if that job requires you to let Santa Claus vomit on you.
Yes, that actually happened to an intern on Grey’s Anatomy recently. But if you can tolerate that kind of ridiculousness — and it’s everywhere on the drama lately, between the deus ex machina plane-crash fallout and that patient with the beach-ball-size testicles — there’s still one good reason to keep watching: Where else can you find such deep friendships between female co-workers? When Callie (Sara Ramirez) can’t persuade her wife, Arizona (Jessica Capshaw), to come back to work after she loses her leg, it’s Bailey (Chandra Wilson) who tricks her into walking on her prosthesis to retrieve a patient’s file. The message? When your spouse can’t save you, your job can. And at a time when so many dramas pit ambitious women against one another — whether they’re fighting for the spotlight on Nashville or scheming to take each other down on Revenge — it’s a relief to see best friends Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) and Cristina (Sandra Oh) keeping up one of the great love stories on television. Cristina moved 1,700 miles away from Meredith to work in Minnesota, and it was way more devastating than any of the show’s countless romantic breakups. They’re reunited in Seattle now, but every time they tell each other ”You’re my person,” a certain critic may or may not get choked up.
The bonds aren’t as believable on Scandal, which follows a team of D.C. fixers led by Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). There are enough conflict-of-interest hookups to make any HR rep explode: Until recently, Olivia was sleeping with her client, President Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn), and her colleague Abby (Darby Stanchfield) was dating the competition, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Rosen (Joshua Malina). But Rhimes doesn’t develop these affairs beyond their impact on the characters’ careers, perhaps because the tone is supposed to be serious, not fun-flirty like Grey’s. So it’s hard to tell why these women sacrifice so much for the people they love. If Olivia really cares about Fitz, why push his wife to have his baby? And if Olivia really cares about Abby, why fool her into dumping David? The show has backed itself out of these types of corners before, so I’ll stick with it. After all, when I need a reliable, thinking woman’s soap opera, Shonda Rhimes is ”my person.” B