At this point, Grey’s Anatomy, which returns tonight for its 14th season, is less of a show and more of a cultural institution. It’s the bedrock of the Shondaland empire, required viewing (and tweeting) for its legion of devoted fans, and the place young actors go for career-boosting arcs—much like ER before it or, on the East coast, Law & Order: SVU.
There was a time, however, when Grey’s was a show like (and unlike) any other, when it hadn’t been running for a thousand years and killed off a dozen main characters. A time when it was just this juicy drama starring really, really good-looking people that I would binge-watch with my camp friends at our semi-regular sleepovers. After those had petered out, I didn’t pay attention to the show until a couple months ago, when it was on at the gym and I found myself watching it; before I knew it, I had fallen down a hole and started the series from the beginning. (Side note: Grey’s is the perfect gym show because it’s addictive, chatty, and will make you terrified of death so you want to work out more.)
But friends, as I watched I noticed something that I never noticed before, but now it’s completely blown my mind and I can’t get past it: The first three seasons take place over the course of one calendar year. Just think about what that means for a second. That means by the time Burke leaves Christina at their wedding, he has known (not dated, not been engaged to, known) her for 12 months. Meanwhile, George falls in love with Meredith, sleeps with Meredith, loses his father, falls in love with Callie, marries Callie, and sleeps with Izzie between July and the next July, approximately. Let’s not even get into the Denny of it all.
If you watch the episodes week by week, you might think the show’s romances move kinda fast; if you look at it in terms of a single trip around the sun, they’re insane. These people start sleeping with each other within days of meeting one another, and they get married at an alarming rate. And apparently, it’s not only normal but good to not know if you want to be with someone on a week-to-week basis. From day one, these interns are like, “We gotta be extra smart and dedicated because there aren’t very many female interns and it’s a competitive program” before they immediately and ceaselessly start sleeping with their attendings and talking about it to anyone who will listen, ad nauseum. And then they break up a bunch! Over and over! In front of patients!
It makes sense that after a short first season (9 episodes) the writers would extend the intern year dynamic into the second season. They set up a pecking order and a chain of command, so, sure, they wanted to continue exploring that. But season 2 is also a whirlwind, including the fact that Bailey has a baby. If little Tuck was conceived on, say, the very first day of season 1 that means that by the middle of season 2, when Bailey delivers, nine months have passed, and the rest of season 2 and all of season 3 take place over the course of three more months?
And it doesn’t get better after season three: Seasons 4 and 5 are over the course of George’s second year as an intern, which means all of the many, many, many things that happen in the first five seasons of this show are supposed to be over two years. At the end of season five, these people have known each other for two years max.
I’m not alone in my confusion. After discovering this, I spent hours combing through timelines that superfans made online trying to make sense of it all, and it just doesn’t work, no matter how many convoluted fan theories—Lexie Grey doesn’t exist, for instance—you pile on top of it. Maybe the first seasons just exist on a different plane of existence. There are multiple references to Meredith being blonde even though she demonstrably isn’t and in the super early days, there was a cheesy theme song:
Maybe (and most likely) the writers’ room just didn’t care. Or maybe—and hear me out here—Meredith’s arrival at Seattle Grace opened up a rift in the space-time continuum and suspended the laws of physics as we know them? Yeah, that’s probably it.