In television, the sins of the children are sometimes visited upon the parents.
It's no great secret that Shonda Rhimes has struggled to launch new TV progeny after her Grey's Anatomy success. Off the Map was a quick, embarrassing failure; Scandal is struggling to take hold; and Private Practice has eked a run out of protected time slots and ABC's desire to keep the producer happy.
All creators have flops — what's unusual for Rhimes is the way the dreariness of the follow-up shows reflects negatively on the much-better original. Like children who have inherited the worst traits of their parents, the newer shows are bad in ways that exaggerate Grey's flaws without highlighting any of its compensating virtues.
People often complain that Grey's is too eager to embrace its characters' immaturity and too willing to heighten its drama past the point of believability. But on Grey's, the main characters have the excuse of youth and inexperience; Practice's characters are older and more established and yet act in ways that would embarrass eighth-graders.
And while Grey's sometimes pushes too far, Practice has no boundaries at all. It's a melodrama set on constant high boil, so much so that Tuesday's lurid plot — a woman who killed her two children and was now pregnant with a third — almost felt restrained.
At Scandal, the problem is less the plot than the exaggerated adoption of Grey's rapid-fire style of speaking, with its reliance on repetition and self-aggrandizing proclamations. We don't mind when we're reminded that Derek is one of the world's best surgeons because the show has established, through multiple plots, that he is. Scandal has tried to short-circuit the process by announcing at every turn that its heroine is "amazing." When you have to tell us that often, we begin to doubt that it's true.
Continuing a strong string of episodes this season, Thursday's Grey's (ABC, 9 ET/PT) is built around the pain and possibility of choice. As the residents begin interviewing for jobs, Cristina (Sandra Oh, who has been doing Emmy-caliber work all year) buries her rage over her husband's infidelity, while Meredith (the often underappreciated Ellen Pompeo) tries to decide whether she's willing to uproot her family for an out-of-town job. (A decision likely to be made not by the writers but by Pompeo's and Patrick Dempsey's contract negotiations.) Their stories are effectively tied into that of a patient whose ability to move forward is complicated by a complex response to a hideous past.
Grey's had a rough patch a few seasons ago, but it's emerged with a great cast and a strong set of characters, and it remains one of TV's most entertaining and popular shows (at least in the demographic the networks prefer). Perhaps it doesn't reach the level of excellence set by Mad Men, Justified or Homeland, but ''very good" is nothing to dismiss. Watch Thursday, and you'll see there's life in the old show yet.
Whatever the kids might lead you to think.