‘Station 19,’ promising ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ spin-off, premieres with painful crash, burn

JAINA LEE ORTIZ
ABC / Mitch Haaseth/Courtesy

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Grade: 2.0/5.0

“Station 19” has big shoes to fill: It’s a spin-off of famed medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” and it’s not shy about it either. The firefighter-centric series tries to pull from quirks that make “Grey’s” endearing, but it ends up with more kinks than hits.

For starters, the premiere of “Station 19” begins with a “Grey’s” essential — narration by a leading lady. While “Grey’s” usually starts with a wise word from Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), this series opens with a metaphor from Andy Herrera (Jaina Lee Ortiz) that just doesn’t land: If you hold on too tightly to the firefighter pole, you’ll get stuck far above the ground you’re aiming for.

Even as the show’s main character warns against a painful ride, the show doesn’t land smoothly, either.

Andy first appeared in a crossover episode with “Grey’s.” She came off tough, if a little scatterbrained at first, which worked for the crossover — she acted in the same way that Meredith and her friends did at the start of “Grey’s,” when they were inexperienced interns.

But the crossover and the premiere of “Station 19” position Andy as a highly competent and experienced firefighter. This narrative inconsistency, combined with the show’s convulsive editing style, makes “Station 19” seem a little all over the place.

The new show’s showrunner was one of the original producers and writers for “Grey’s,” Stacy McKee, and it shows. In addition to the medical drama’s characteristic narration, “Station 19” also has a penchant for spicy hookups and cheesy one-liners.

Sexual tension between characters is certainly a staple from “Grey’s,” and this premiere sets up “Station 19” to be much the same. But once again, the show seems so hell-bent on loyalty to “Grey’s” that it neglects its new main character and almost everyone around her. Andy, who has already been set up as both very prepared and very underprepared for her job, spends much of the episode worried about two people she’s slept with — a plot we know well from “Grey’s,” where it works because we see the women succeeding and failing at both intimacy and surgery.

But, the crossover episode saw Andy in a panic, and this premiere is no different — she is hardly in her zone, and she rarely gets to lead the firefighters. We know she’s competent from overly obvious exposition. Yet, all we’ve seen is panic about her father, work and sex.

One is left wanting more from Andy, and past Shondaland shows suggest that McKee can do better for her, too. Show us that Andy is competent — don’t tell us she is and then show us the opposite.

Andy’s professional world is also undercut by tonally confusing scenes of the firefighters in the field. On the one hand, there’s tense music blaring and fast cuts, but on the other, there are jokes and conversations that slow down the action.  

If “Station 19” aims to capture how adrenaline-filled moments seem to pass both in slow motion and in a flash at the same time, it needs to find another technique — especially if the series is going to continue mimicking the small-scale procedural pattern of “Grey’s,” where the doctors (or firefighters, in this case) are seen juggling episodic cases with long-arcing personal narratives.

And then there are the show’s attempts at cheesy one-liners that “Grey’s” is famous for. But when “Station 19” tries to do the same, it just feels forced, because we aren’t invested in these firefighters yet.

The exception is Andy’s best friend, Maya (Danielle Savre), whose background is hinted at, but never expressly stated. Her character is spunky, supportive and driven — there’s an interesting story there, but it’s not given to us on a silver platter the way that Andy’s background and traits are.

While the character type that “Station 19” introduces for Andy is interesting, it’s already inconsistent and obvious in the premiere — Maya is more exciting because she’s written more subtly. Here’s to hoping the writers take the same type of risk with Andy in future episodes.

Cheese and spice only land if we’re invested in the characters, and “Station 19” hasn’t given us enough to love yet. If future episodes can figure out their own recipe, they won’t be so reliant on the “Grey’s” method — and they’ll be a much smoother ride for viewers.

“Station 19” premieres March 22 on ABC.

Sophie-Marie Prime covers television. Contact her at [email protected].