Friday, March 21, 2008

Break It Down - Grey's Anatomy

Before I get into this episode of Grey's, I'd like to make an offer/solicit suggestions. If any of you have shows or scripts you'd like me to do a breakdown for, let me know and I'll see what I can do. Know in advance that I make no promises as my ability to break down the script for a show depends almost entirely on my being able to acquire it...which is sometimes easier said than done. Beyond that, I have a few caveats:

1. I'm not doing half hour shows...with a few exceptions. For example, I might consider an In Treatment...because I think that would be really interesting...and short...but you're out of luck if you're hoping for a Two and a Half Men. Sorry, but I just don't think it would be useful for me.

2. I will only break down shows that are currently on the air. So no Buffy, 90210 or Rockford Files. I know how much you were looking forward to it, James Garner fans, but you'll have to look somewhere else.

Beyond that, I'm game to at least consider any suggestions. Anyway...on with the show.

If you'd like to catch up on other breakdowns I've done, look here, here, here and here.

Today's Grey's Anatomy breakdown is an oldie but a goodie:

Episode 108 - Who's Zoomin' Who?

Short Description

In which George (and half the hospital, it seems) gets syphilis from Alex, Richard's eyesight starts to go, Izzy and Cristina perform an illegal autopsy, and Meredith first meets Mrs. McDreamy. Yup, that's right, it's jam-packed full of stuff. (Oh, and by the way, I know IMDB says this is episode 109, which may be true in terms of when it aired, but the actual script in my hand says 108, so I'm going with that.)

Story Threads

Hmm. Well, friends, this one's a doozy. Like Gossip Girl, each character kind of has at least a few beats of a story here, which already means we've got multiple threads to follow. But wait, there's more. This episode contains not one, but two patient storylines. I'm sure that not all of these would really be considered a "story" in the room, but in order to break this down as much as possible, here's what we've got:

A-story - George learns he has syphilis and feels betrayed by his new sort-of girlfriend.

B-story - Meredith keeps avoiding calls from the home (mental? retirement? I don't watch the show that much) where they're keeping her mother.

C-story - Derek keeps avoiding calls from...someone *cough*Addison, his wife*cough*

D-story - Cristina and Burke deal...eventually...with their new relationship.

E-story - Richard starts to lose his eyesight and has to have secret emergency surgery.

F-story - Burke's patient and old college buddy has two revelations - 1) he has internal female organs and 2) the baby his wife's carrying isn't his. Dude is not having a good day.

G-story - Cristina and Izzy lose a patient and then perform an illegal autopsy on him.

No, you didn't count wrong - seven frigging stories. Holy crap.

(Note: The above designations of A-story, B-story and so on are based entirely on when that story thread first appears in the script. This will become quite apparent later when you realize how few beats the B, C and D "stories" get.)

Length and Breakdown

Teaser - 8 pages, 6 scenes
Act I - 10 pages, 9 scenes
Act II - 17 pages, 13 scenes
Act III - 9 pages, 7 scenes
Act IV - 6 pages, 5 scenes
Act V - 6 pages, 5 scenes

45 scenes in 56 pages, with a teaser and five acts. Pagewise, Act II is the longest and Acts IV & V are shortest. 8 pages is a decently long teaser--it's longer than Acts IV & V and just a page shorter than Act III. You can also see--based on the number of pages vs. the number of scenes--that in general we're talking about roughly a page for each scene.

The scenes are organized as follows:

A-story - George has syphilis (11 beats/scenes)
B-story - Meredith's mom (3 beats/scenes)
C-story - Derek avoiding calls (3 beats/scenes)
D-story - Cristina and Burke (3 beats/scenes)
E-story - Richard's eyesight (12 beats/scenes)
F-story - Burke's patient/friend (7 beats/scenes)
G-story - Cristina and Izzy's patient (12 beats/scenes)

Teaser - A, B, A/C, D/E, A, A
Act I - F, E, G, A, E, G, A, E, F
Act II - G, A, E, A/D, F, A, B, E, A/E, D, G, E, G
Act III - G, E/C, F, G, F, G, E
Act IV - G, F, E, B, G
Act V - G, F, E, G, A, C

(Note: where beats include a / mark, this means that the scene has elements of both stories. When this happens, I'm putting the story that the beat gives preference to as the first story. In the scene/beat count above, every appearance of A, B, C and so on is counted as one full beat rather than a half, even if there is a slash mark.)

Looking at the beats tells us a lot about the way a typical Grey's looks. The teaser is entirely about the main characters, and by the time it ends we've just gotten to the hospital and are starting the day there. Right away, we can see that this show cares more about character than weekly medical mysteries...or so we think. Really, the teaser is just kind of a set up to remind us where the characters are right now in their lives so that we can see how what's about to follow will impact them in a way that reflects this. And once we get into the episode proper, there are fewer and fewer beats that only serve to move the character's storylines forward. In fact, starting with Act I, every time we go to commercial or come back, the first thing we see is what's happening in the medical stories. The closest we get to leaving on a character beat until the end of the episode is when Richard's in surgery at the end of Act III. But... Richard's in surgery. Again, leaving on the drama of a medical story. Still, the reason we come back is the characters, and the show smartly ends on Meredith's revelation that her new McDreamy boyfriend has an even McDreamier wife.

So...if you're considering writing a Grey's spec at this somewhat late date, begin and end on where the characters are, but realize that there's got to be a lot of episodic medical drama going on in the meat of the episode between the teaser and Act V.

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