First, the San Diego Tribune's descriptions of the various Grey's Anatomy maladies devotees can contract. Now, it's the Boston Globe's turn -- only this column centers around the diseases it believes the show has caught.
In the opinion of the column's author, Matthew Gilbert, Grey's Anatomy needs early detection and behavior modification to live a healthy, happy, and, of course, humorously narcissistic life.
Otherwise, even as the ratings soar and the media buzz grows deafening, the product will become infected and compromised by its own fame. Desperate Housewives is a great example, he writes, having succumbed in record time as it lost its original vision amid the hype of his first season.
Now that bug is threatening Grey's Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes. Here are five prescriptions needed for Grey's to get its groove back.
1. Free Bailey!
Dr. Miranda Bailey should be ruling the roost, barking and biting. Not wallowing like her young doctors. The newbies on Grey's Anatomy are all about Seattle Grace gossip and their own sex lives, and that self-absorption is entertaining, particularly since it counteracts the heroic approach to doctoring on the likes of ER.
But we could always count on Dr. Bailey to burst the others' self-centered bubbles. This season, however, she has succumbed to the vacuum. Bailey has gone from telling George to stop looking at her "va-jay-jay" to moping guiltily with Izzie. Rhimes needs to make sure Chandra Wilson stays on course.
2. Give us George back, too.
McSweetie has gone from a selfless, lovable character to just another me-aholic. Like Bailey, he has fallen into the show's maw of codependent self-absorption, as his on-offs with Callie lack the backbone he once had.
Rhimes has wisely kept Meredith dislikable and yet McDreamy's object of desire, which is a critical part of what makes this show crisp. But she has futzed with George to no good end.
3. Incest is not best.
One side effect of most ensemble series is insularity -- in this case, only a handful of doctors seem to run the entire hospital. But the interconnectedness within the Grey's Anatomy gang is growing particularly busy, with Meredith, Derek, Addison, Mark, Callie, and George forming a chain that loops all the way back around.
Seattle Grace's interlocking ménage has gone from kooky and soapy to just plain ridiculous. Also absurd is that Finn and Derek would be so smitten with Meredith they'd agree to co-date her. That plot pushed the show's female point-of-view to the limits.
Rhimes needs to be very careful about her approach to Derek and Meredith. Ross and Rachel of Friends are the great cautionary tale of on-again, off-again romance on TV. By the time they finally got together for good, they seemed more like brother and sister than lovers.
4. Break up the meter.
Seriously. The Grey's Anatomy dialogue that was stylish at first, with its repeating sentence structures and phrases, has started to sound robotic and precious. Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, also has this tic.
"This is not dating," Meredith said when Finn accosted her during a date with Derek. "I want moonlight, and flowers, and candy, and people trying to feel me up. Nobody is trying to feel me up. Nobody is even looking at me."
The rhythm is the same for all the characters, something that happens in a Woody Allen movie when everyone starts to sound like Allen himself. Even Callie, the un-Meredith in many ways, is starting to speak like the rest.
The many Meredith Grey quotes, particularly the voiceovers, in which she waxes poetic about "pain" and "guilt" while trying to make each episode seem like it was so well-written that it has a single theme, are also getting monotonous. It may be time for them to go.
5. Keep both eyes on your prize.
Writer-producer David E. Kelley may be the poster child for TV auteurs whose work has succumbed to self-parody. Instead of pushing forward with his vision on Ally McBeal, he took what was exciting about it and put that on a sample loop. Meanwhile, he moved his interest and inspiration into other projects, letting others re-create his magic.
Rhimes is now at a similar crossroads, as she creates a new pilot about broadcast journalism (starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, better known as Denny on Grey's) and has to start splitting her time between two series.
Grey's Anatomy isn't built to run on automatic pilot like the CSI or Law & Order shows. That's what makes it special -- the excitement of a particular writer discovering new territory. Like Ally McBeal, Rhimes's creation is of a more fragile constitution than most dramas, and it requires care to stay fit.