After many, many (arguably too many) seasons revolutionizing the landscape of diversity on screen, the language of love, and the layperson’s belief that they too could stab a pen into someone’s neck and bring them gasping back to life, “Grey’s Anatomy” is still going. The show’s absurdly long run conjures up a very specific “again???” feeling after yet another fiery explosion, plane crash, or mass casualty event brings one of the iconic characters back to the hospital in an ambulance on their day off. The people at Shondaland must be aware—though they’ve clearly got the juice to keep things running longer than most shows airing right now— that something had to change. “Grey’s” needed a refreshing boost to inspire a new audience to tune in. With the (young, hot, talented) batch of interns selected for season 19, it seems the demographic they decided to target was simply… gay.
Let me tell you: It worked. And it was worth it! I had basically forgotten about “Grey’s” until some of thee hottest people I follow on Instagram (either for being queer IRL or for being queer on screen; sometimes both) posted about joining the cast. I was elated, for them and for me. I had no idea what was going on in the show, but that didn’t matter. This was a welcome home, a reintroduction, a fresh start at a time when we’re all different (stronger, wiser, gayer) than we were all those years ago. McDreamy or no, it’s always gonna be a beautiful day to save lives.
This season was everything I remembered “Grey’s” to be at the height of my love for it: Stories ripped from the headlines, stressful “What if it was me?” medical conundrums, strange new health fears unlocking, and of course, lessons to be learned about caring for each other under difficult circumstances. Season 19 was fierce in its depiction of doctors providing support to anyone who needed it—even when it is illegal to do so, and when it put their own lives in danger. The show managed to bring heart, humor, and strength in its typical tenacity to the narrative that the nation needs right now. We saw the toll it took on the Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital staff to provide the care their country needed, and we saw the painful risks that the people asking for their help took to get there. “Grey’s” excels at saying what needs to be said and meeting the nation where it’s at, inviting the audience on the journey to a better future.
This season, the conversation took us to the hellscape that is access to reproductive healthcare and sex education, the quality of life for doctors-in-training, the financial risks of getting treatment you urgently need, and the pain of suddenly losing people you shared life with. But it also brought us along for lovely queer experiences. Specifically, through the new cast of first-year surgical residents.
Literally the entirety of the new cast is either openly queer or has played a notable queer character. Not only are they gorgeous, brilliant actors, but they are all joyously queer and queer-affirming. Was this the gayest season of “Grey’s” ever? I can’t say for sure (because of the aforementioned pause after one too many major disasters), but upon returning with this new cast, it certainly feels like it!
Bisexual babe and athleisure queen Adelaide Kane, who has ruled over my heart since The CW’s impeccably costumed “Reign”, plays Dr. Jules Millin. Millin is quite a serious character, but (adorably) lives with an elderly British woman, and they’re genuine besties. She’s got something brewing with the competitive-yet-sensitive Dr. Benson Kwan, played by Harry Shum Jr, who will always be queer icon Magnus Bane (“Shadowhunters”) to me. Then there’s Dr. Simone Griffith (Alexis Floyd) who you may recognize more recently from “Inventing Anna”, but many will remember as Tia, the queer campaign manager turned love interest to Kat (Aisha Dee) in “The Bold Type”. Simone finds connection with Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) as she deals intimately with the heartache of a family member who has Alzheimer’s. She also has an emotional, classically “Grey’s” ‘back-and-forth right up until the wedding day love triangle with a very satisfying conclusion.
Queer actor Midori Francis (who we know as Alicia, Leighton’s ‘girl that got away but then came back and won her heart all over again’ in “The Sex Lives of College Girls”) plays Dr. Mika Yasuda. Yasuda’s arc represents the underpaid, overworked, student doctors who are exhausted, but forced to work second and third jobs to survive. Her love interest (the fantastic Dr. Taryn Helm, played by Jaicy Elliot) plays an integral role in alerting the hospital higher-ups that it’s not a sustainable situation for doctors in training (or anybody!) to be living under. This wake-up call creates changes in the program’s leadership, bringing Yasuda’s potential girlfriend deeper into the fold for next season.
I’m obsessed with the comment on the above picture that says “Wait. Do I have to start watching Grey’s Anatomy again?! I haven’t watched since college.” Because the answer is yes! That’s my point exactly: This season hits all the right spots, especially in connecting queer people of color with familiar faces at a time when the comfort and safety of queer characters—and queer people IRL—isn’t guaranteed.
They already have the perfect doctor’s name to boot, too.
Gay comedian and star of the spectacularly queer “4400” reboot, Calvin Seabrooks, guests this season as a love interest for the impossibly endearing Dr Levi Schmitt (played by gay actor Jake Borelli). Dr. Schmitt is already openly gay —He came out on the show in season 15— so no coming-out drama for us! In fact, his greatest queer struggle here is misreading the gay hot-to-available power ratio in their interactions. Borelli also starred in Freeform’s swoonworthy queer rom-com The Thing About Harry, which he and Niko Terho (playing the titular pansexual character, Harry) lead as love interests. In “Grey’s Anatomy”, Terho plays Dr. Lucas Adams, a privileged character with a gentle sensibility and a lot to prove to himself and everyone around him. He radiates ‘realizing he’s bi in a few seasons time when he unexpectedly falls for a new side character’ energy, and I will be waiting patiently for that storyline. For now, he’s completely in love with Simone and it’s so sweet that it makes my heart ache in the best way.
A powerful part of Adams’ arc occurs when his perpetually running late and difficulty managing tasks is brought to light as “clearly” being ADHD. Terho beautifully portrays his struggle with gaining the clarity of a manageable diagnosis that explains your life experience, while navigating the disappointment of being diagnosed after decades of feeling like a failure.
It was a delight to find that one of the main characters, Dr Amelia Shepherd (Caterina Scorsone), who we’ve known as Meredith’s sister for years, is in a long-term (and long-distance) relationship with Dr Kai Bartley —a nonbinary person, played by a nonbinary person (E. R. Fightmaster). Their relationship is placed on equal footing as, and sometimes very literally compared against, the show’s straight and cis romances, which was so unexpected and cool to see. Kai waltzes in and out of this season, bringing medical expertise, cozy romantic energy, and long-distance drama —none of it directly about their queerness, and never in a way that makes the queerness of Kai and Amelia dating a question or a conflict.
There’s something profoundly important about good queer rep in shows made for the whole family to watch together. This particular cast refresh feels tailored to summon an audience that needs to see themselves on screen like this, especially now. Season 19 is so worth celebrating. I don’t know how much “Grey’s” has done in the years since they lost me, but I do know that they’ve won me right over and I’m absolutely along for the ride. I hope one day we get to see Lucas have some kind of bisexual awakening; I hope there is always casually gender-expansive representation in significant roles; I hope to see many inside jokes written by and for the queer community; I hope Yasuda’s sapphic romance becomes one of the timeless, lasting love stories embedded in the show’s history. More than anything, I hope the success of this positive queer storytelling and inclusivity inspires many more primetime network shows to do the same.♦