It's been a few years since I watched Grey's Anatomy regularly, but I can’t say no to a musical episode. So when I found out Thursday night’s installment would be all-singing, all-dancing, I brushed up on recent plot developments and made the bold choice to tune in. The episode, “Song Beneath the Song,” featured the entire cast performing renditions of pop tracks that have been used throughout the series. While it would have been nice to hear original music—or even old standards that hadn’t already been spotlighted on Grey's Anatomy—I was mostly excited to hear Broadway star Sara Ramirez showing off her pipes.
The episode began post-crash: Arizona (Jessica Capshaw) asked Callie (Ramirez) to marry her right before the couple’s car collided with a truck, sending Callie through the windshield. The doctors of Seattle Grace had to keep their friend alive, with specific focus on her unborn child and her potentially damaged brain. Meanwhile, Callie saw it all through song. Let’s break it down by musical number.
“Cosy in the Rocket”
Originally Performed By: Psapp
Performed By: Callie
As a shaking and bloody Callie awaited help, she saw herself singing a few lines from the original Grey’s Anatomy theme song. Too short to really reflect on, this at least set a haunting tone for the episode.
Originally Performed By: Snow Patrol
Performed By: Callie, Owen (Kevin McKidd), Bailey (Chandra Wilson)
Here we go—the first real musical number. It’s hard to resist a comparison to the last time Grey’s used “Chasing Cars,” the brutal Season 2 finale. (Denny! Still not over it.) It was jarring and perhaps ill-advised to have the doctors sing as they performed surgery, but this was early on, before the novelty of a musical episode had worn off. Besides, McKidd’s strong voice was a pleasant surprise.
“Breathe (2 AM)”
Originally Performed By: Anna Nalick
Performed By: Lexie (Chyler Leigh)
Ah, another Grey’s Anatomy classic. But here’s where “Song Beneath the Song” ran into its first problem. As Lexie sang the Anna Nalick song and left to find Mark, the action returned to the operating room. You could still hear her singing faintly, but what’s the point of a musical episode if the songs are going to be relegated to background music? While Leigh’s voice was nice, this was an early indication of Shonda Rhimes’ faulty musical sensibilities.
“How We Operate”
Originally Performed By: Gomez
Performed By: Owen
Sure, more McKidd singing was great, but this brief song snippet was not. Too obvious a choice in an episode filled with obvious choices. And at the same time—not really appropriate to the situation. The problem with using existing tracks instead of writing original music is that the songs only kind of match what’s going on. Honestly, it came across as lazy.
Originally Performed By: Get Set Go
Performed By: Bailey, April (Sarah Drew)
This was the moment for Sarah Drew—and unfortunately it was kind of underwhelming. More operating room singing? The episode needed to deliver on some big musical moments, not more of the same “let’s sing while we save her” scenes.
“Running On Sunshine”
Originally Performed By: Jesus Jackson
Performed By: Callie, Arizona, Bailey, Eli (Daniel Sunjata), Owen, Teddy (Kim Raver), Henry (Scott Foley), Alex (Justin Chambers), Lexie, Meredith (Ellen Pompeo)
And then “Song Beneath the Song” did give us an actual production. As it turned out, we probably should have stuck with the OR histrionics. There were sweet moments to this montage of couples (and almost couples) expressing their fondness for one another, but it was oddly timed and out of place in an episode about Callie’s struggle to survive. Bonus points for solid performances by Foley and Chambers, but obscuring Pompeo’s so-so voice was an obvious cheat.
“Universe & U”
Originally Performed By: KT Tunstall
Performed By: Callie, Arizona
Sure, give the lesbian couple a KT Tunstall song. All kidding aside, it was a nice enough moment, if not somewhat unnecessary. At this point in the episode, I was really just waiting for the show to give Ramirez more opportunities to show her range.
Originally Performed By: Kate Havnevik
Performed By: Callie (and female choir)
Finally. This was what the episode should have been all the way through, as Callie’s, uh, spirit floated around the hospital. Was it over-the-top? Sure. But this is Grey’s Anatomy, and in the context of a musical episode, you need these scenes. More to the point, “Grace” felt like a music video, and if we were supposed to take “Song Beneath the Song” as Callie’s brain-damaged hallucination, doesn’t it makes sense that she’d see things that way?
“How to Save a Life”
Originally Performed By: The Fray
Performed By: Cast
After “Chasing Cars” and “Breathe (2 AM),” “How to Save a Life” is Grey’s most iconic song. And that makes sense—it uses a surgery metaphor to talk about a failed relationship, which is the series’ mission statement. But this big group number was muddled with too many voices and too much going on. What made Shonda Rhimes think that it was necessary to incorporate actual surgery into the song? Why not allow the characters to interact in Callie’s imagination instead? Other notes: it was nice to see Addison (Kate Walsh) join in, albeit briefly, and hey, Pompeo isn’t so bad after all.
Originally Performed By: Brandi Carlile
Performed By: Callie
I hate this song. That isn’t anyone’s fault really—well, maybe Brandi Carlile’s—but given my personal bias, I thought it was an unfortunate choice to close the episode. Yeah, Callie got to see her baby, but there had already been enough of her astral projecting around the hospital. Also, while this should have been Ramirez’s standout moment, it didn’t really feel like anything special.
In the end, “Song Beneath the Song” wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it wasn’t watercooler discussion-worthy either. With few flashy production numbers and all the songs recycled from earlier episodes, the entire enterprise felt much like your standard Grey’s Anatomy. It wasn’t event television, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fantastic “Once More, With Feeling”—it was a rating’s plot. But hey, it worked. Last night’s numbers were up a sizable 30 percent from last week. Let’s hope if Grey’s does it again, Rhimes learns how to do a musical right.
Go ahead and play Randy Jackson, dog, and let us know what you thought of "Song Beneath the Song."