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Saying goodbye to Ellen Pompeo, TV’s civil servant

We first met Meredith Gray in November 2005, when she was a medical intern in Shonda Rhimes’s drama. Now, she is leaving the show after 270 hours on screen

Grey's Anatomy Ellen Pompeo
Ellen Pompeo, in a promotional image for the 17th season of 'Grey's Anatomy.'STAR/ABC
Sergio del Molino

If we were to watch all the episodes of Grey’s Anatomy starring actress Ellen Pompeo in a row, we would be in front of the TV for 11 days and six hours straight. This is the equivalent of 270 hours. Few actresses have grown old at the same rate as their characters. We met Meredith Gray in November 2005, when she was a medical intern at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital on the TV show created by Shonda Rhimes. Since then, we’ve followed her journey until it came to an end just a few days ago, when she announced her plans to retire. From the show, we have learned that Meredith is an exceptional doctor, a pioneer in the field of medicine. And we have also learned a lot about Ellen Pompeo: she has had one of the longest and most lucrative careers in the history of television, without actually learning the basics of her trade. It’s quite a feat.

Great performers have appeared on Grey’s Anatomy, but with the exception of the fabulous Sandra Oh, almost all of them have had supporting roles. Grey’s Anatomy is a metaphor for the business world or a political party: talent leaves as soon as it smells an opportunity. In the case of Grey’s Anatomy, these actors have almost always ended up in projects that, while less popular and lower-paid, offer what is most longed for: prestige. Meanwhile, the mediocre have continued to make their rounds in the Seattle hospital, sluggishly going through the same plots of the melodrama, that moves between medical gore and cheesy romance.

Ellen Pompeo is leaving the show, and her exit (her final episode airs in February 2023) is set to be bland as her performance. In one of the series with the highest character mortality rate in history, Meredith Gray will not be granted the privilege of dying. Instead, she will leave like a civil servant who has reached retirement age, with a farewell dinner and some promises to catch up again soon. Just like in life, sure, but a boring life.

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