Web Series: 'Grey's Anatomy: B-Team' Is a Complacent Spinoff
Whether or not it was your cup of tea, it's tough to deny the dramatic resonance that Grey’s Anatomy has had on audiences over the past decade. With a revolving door of characters, romantic trysts, and enough medical melodrama to cause its fair share of trauma, Anatomy continues a ratings juggernaut and a cultural institution heading into its fourteenth season. Not one for complacency, however, showrunner Shonda Rhimes has dovetailed this success into several lucrative spinoffs over the years, including Private Practice and an upcoming series involving firefighters, but with the web series Grey’s Anatomy: B-Team, she is ciphering creative energy directly from the Anatomy well, and the results are, in a word... lukewarm.
Grey’s Anatomy: B-Team focuses on the new crop of interns that are welcomed into Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital, and their efforts to adjust to the high-stress environment and social cues of the practice. In addition, the interns mistakenly believe that they’ll get a chance at going into the operating room alongside veteran surgeons, which makes each of them especially competitive in their actions. Standard enough premise, and the series certainly carries several of the Anatomy hallmarks we’ve come to know and love, but from the onset of the pilot episode (titled, quite cheekily, “Episode One”), it's clear that a few crucial elements are absent.
For one, the new interns fail to ignite the electric chemistry conjured up by previous ensembles. Individually, each component is charming enough, with performances by Jake Borelli (as Levi “Glasses” Schmitt) and Jeanine Mason (as Samantha “Sam” Bello) standing out in particular, though I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a group of young actors pretend to be friends. There’s a juvenile sensibility to the scenes where all of them are spending time together-- a double-edged sword that, while lending a freshness to the hospital drama, causes B-Team to come off like a youth group reading of a Grey’s script, as opposed to the real thing.
The general length (or lack thereof) of B-Team is another hindering factor. Each episode runs about two-and-a-half minutes, and while it makes it incredibly easy to breeze through them all, it leaves plenty to be desired in the narrative department. There’s scarcely any time to develop a narrative, let alone strengthen characters that we are still unsure about. I concede that sparseness is the name of the game when it comes to the web series, but for a format that we’ve become so accustomed to be in hour long blocks, B-Team suffers in ways that it isn’t really capable of overcoming.
Now, to be clear, B-Team isn’t the first time Grey’s Anatomy has taken to the smaller screen. The ABC series has actually had two web spin-offs, including Grey’s Anatomy: On Call, which prefaced season six, and Grey’s Anatomy: A Message of Hope, which occurred during season seven and saw the characters organizing a commercial for the hospital in the wake of a mass shooting. Both were minor additions to the overarching narrative, but they at least felt connected, tonally and stylistically. B-Team feels as though it's trying to stretch the Anatomy brand thin. This is understandable, given the decade-and-a-half that its been on the air, but it also leads to a viewing experience that relies too heavily on familiar settings (look! It's the same operating room!) and glorified cameos from cast regulars like Justin Chambers (Alex Karev), Kelly McCreary (Maggie Pierce), and James Pickens, Jr. (Richard Webber).
Grey’s Anatomy: B-Team is perhaps too accurate a title for a web series that feels like leftover ideas and narrative scraps. As an entry point for a Grey’s Anatomy newbie, B-Team is a pretty lousy place to start. The production value is down, the cast fail to gel in comparison to its central narrative, and the whole has an inconsequential, extended riff feel to it. I can’t recommend it on it's own merits, but I would be remiss to say that hardcore fans of the Anatomy brand won’t find a few nuggets of entertainment as they welcome the main series back this month.
All six episodes of Grey’s Anatomy: B-Team are currently available for streaming on ABC.com and YouTube.