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On ''Grey's Anatomy,'' while Izzie is immobilized with grief after Denny's death, Meredith faces another love-triangle dilemma

INTERN OVER Izzie may still be leaving the program
Image credit: Katherine Heigl: Vivian Zink/ABC
INTERN OVER Izzie may still be leaving the program

''Grey's Anatomy'': After the prom, it's no party

All right, who was with me back in the spring? Who was sitting down every Sunday night to The Sopranos, then Grey's Anatomy, steak and then dessert, a four-star double bill? And who else gradually noticed — maybe this was sometime around the middle of April or so — that Grey's was really holding its own, drama-wise, against HBO's great but flagging Mob show? Some nights the soap about sexy doctors was out-and-out better. Just compare the finales: In Grey's, Isaiah Washington's Burke got shot by a crazy man and could barely twitch his bread-and-butter surgeon's fingers; Meredith and Derek's dog, Doc, died a two- or three-hankie death; and they hooked up at — this is ridiculous, but it worked — ''the prom,'' while Katherine Heigl's Izzie cut something called the ''LVAD wire'' to save her heart-patient squeeze Denny, who died, came back to life, then died for good this time, which prompted Izzie to quit the surgical program right there at the prom in a pink dress that matched the walls of the hospital elevator. 'Twas a firecracker end to the season and a teary kickoff to a summer of reruns. And across the dial, what happened on the last Sopranos?...Beats me. I can't remember any of it.

So we were eager, us Grey's fans, for season 3. And, friends, it's early yet, but don't we have to agree that this first episode was two cc's worth of slightly disappointing? It just didn't go for the guts; at other times it just didn't make much sense. And starting right where the finale stopped, the show kicked off with an amusing puzzler: What happened to Karev's hair? Izzie is catatonic on her bedroom floor, eyeballs practically rolled dolefully to the back of her skull, and her intern friends are pounding away on the door trying to get her to open it. Karev's in a none-too-subtle ski cap, and the next we see him, saving a preemie dropped in a high-school dumpster, his head is shaved close. Which means — doesn't it? — that right after the prom, right after Denny died and presumably when all the barber shops were closed, Karev went to go get a buzz. What happened here? In case it's something serious, I won't speculate. Justin Chambers, hope you're all right.

So Karev finds a dumpster baby right before the all-important fade to opening credits. A surprising move! Also dispiriting. It suggests that we aren't really gonna jump right into the nitty-gritty of dead Denny, or the question mark hanging on the love triangle of Ellen Pompeo's Meredith, Patrick Dempsey's Derek, and Chris O'Donnell's Finn the Vet. Instead, we're gonna fall right away to that old Grey's staple: its wacky, sensational in-patient follies. Every regular episode has these, and they are almost always silly, which is why the follies-free finale last season felt so streamlined and killer. This episode, as it must, offered us that baby in the dumpster, and also ''the Plague.'' Yes, somehow a lady with a head trauma tracked in ''the Plague.'' ''In a situation like this,'' as Jack Nicholson advised darkly during the commercial for The Departed, ''kill everybody.'' But no. Instead, Derek and likable intern George got quarantined in the locker room — a thoroughly lazy device to give Finn time to go see Meredith and to give supersqueeze Callie the chance to pine away for George. Seriously, it was a waste: I'd expect the show to get at least a post-Super Bowl two-parter out of a plague subplot. Nary a bleeding orifice, a diseased rat, or a last-minute antidote were even referenced, let alone glimpsed.

The something all-new this episode did offer — if I'm not mistaken — was flashbacks. Lots of flashbacks. I'm not sure what they added, except that they seem to indicate that (1) Meredith dogging the Chief about dating her mother back in the day will be a big plot point this season and (2) Derek's pickup lines are real rusty. (''I'm someone you need to get to know to love''?) And it was jarring to watch Sandra Oh's Cristina meet Burke for the first time in a flashback set — presumably a year and a half ago — to a song on the Gnarls Barkley album that came out just this summer. If that's not a gaffe, then technically it means the events of this season are taking place 18 months from now, in the future. Which could be far out. If Denny were real, he would not be dead right now, for one thing.

(I miss Denny. Maybe you hated his subplot last season — some people did, and they're glad he's dead — and you definitely could argue that he wouldn't fall in love with Izzie, or she wouldn't fall in love with him, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan, the guy who played Denny, was a winner. A big, chimp-armed, sandpaper-y teddy bear. I discovered him in Weeds this summer, too; he was equally excellent as Mary-Louise Parker's ghostly dead husband. Your loss is felt all around, JDM!)

So the climax of this here season premiere hits when Derek busts plague-free out of quarantine, shows up in Meredith's kitchen, and sings his song of love. ''You have a choice to make,'' he tells her. ''I've been in love with you — forever....Take all the time you need.'' It's a neat little inversion — though less sublimely scripted — of Meredith's lovely ''Pick me. Choose me. Love me'' speech last year (which was, by all lights, a season 2 high point). But c'mon, is it really a choice at all by now? She and Patrick D. have been staring drippy-eyed at each other from the get-go. Do we doubt who she's gonna pick? Do the ''scenes from next week's Grey's Anatomy'' really expect us to believe she's gonna have to flip a coin to choose between the nice-enough vet and the petal-lidded surge?

I much preferred the chat between Derek and George up in quarantine, when Derek was half trying to convince George that he ought to tell Callie he loves her. (The coupling of George and Callie is weird, but let's save it for another post; it is a long, long season.) ''You should tell her,'' Derek says. ''Even if it's soonish. You should tell her before it's too late.''

''You mean before I die of the plague?'' George replies.

Bingo! That exchange is Grey's in a nutshell: gooey emotionalism, plus a smidge of astringent ridiculousness to keep it exotic. In this ep, the balance felt a little off, but aren't we all happy to have the show back?

What do you think? Did you enjoy this episode or what? Is Thursday night on ABC really ''Where Television Goes to Feel Better''? What's the name of the actor who played Omar, the crying husband of the dead lady? Of course I've seen him before, but it's late and I can't place him right now? And how was Six Degrees, which I didn't watch but will, because it stars Hope Davis, one of my very favorites?

Originally posted Sep 22, 2006