Grey's Anatomy comes of age

Jesse Williams and Sarah Drew play divorced couple Jackson Avery and April Kepner on Grey's Anatomy.
Jesse Williams and Sarah Drew play divorced couple Jackson Avery and April Kepner on Grey's Anatomy.PHOTO: FOX

Season 13 will tackle more grown-up issues, such as marriage, divorce and kids

Those who tuned into Grey's Anatomy when it first aired in 2005 may remember the constant shenanigans of its junior doctors, which became a hallmark of the popular show. But after 12 seasons, those surgical interns have grown up, so do not expect them to be too preoccupied with getting frisky in a supplies closet.

Star Jesse Williams, who has played plastic surgeon Jackson Avery on the show since 2009, says: "You've seen a lot of characters go through 13 years of growth and they're not kids anymore."

This is why the new season, which debuts in Singapore on Friday at 9pm (Star World, Singtel TV Channel 301 and StarHub TV Channel 501), will tackle more grown-up problems such as "what is it like to be an adult with a marriage or divorce and kids who are growing up".

"They're not 20something interns making out in the closet. This year, we've really embraced the evolution of the characters," the actor tells reporters in Los Angeles earlier this year.

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Williams, 35, confirms that this will also be true of Jackson and his ex-wife and colleague April Kepner, played by Sarah Drew, who joined the cast in 2009 too. "We are getting older and dealing with the divorce, while also having a lot of responsibility in the hospital," he says.

Over the years, the long-running show has seen an expanding cast of players, thanks to a soap opera-esque string of deaths, estrangements and secret relatives coming out of the woodwork at the fictional Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital in Seattle.

But for Season 13, the series will refocus on two of the original characters, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and Alex Karev (Justin Chambers) - the only two left of the group of five surgical interns from Season 1.

This was a welcome development for some of the older cast.

"There's a lot of us on the show - there are multiple generations represented," says Williams. "So we're all behind that idea of returning a little bit to what made the show so great in the beginning, which was following these characters."

Another consequence of being on TV for so long is that the show's fan base is evolving too.

Some viewers have been watching for more than a decade, while others are only just discovering the series because of re-runs or the availability of older seasons on Netflix in the United States.

Drew, 36, says: "I feel like most of the people that stop me on the streets are 13-year-old girls. My niece, who's about to turn 16, just streamed the whole series over her summer break two summers ago and became an immediate, diehard fan. And I've heard so many stories like that."

The actress, who is married to academic Peter Lanfer and has children aged two and five, adds: "It's neat to see how this show can inspire a whole generation of people and then pick up a whole new generation of people and inspire them as well."

Williams notes that not a lot of television series "can make that claim right now".

"And I think there are more new fans than there are existing fans, who have always been with the show," says the star, who has two children, aged one and three, with real-estate broker wife Aryn Drake-Lee, 34.

Some of the younger Grey's Anatomy viewers are even contemplating careers in medicine as a result.

"With a lot of them whom I hear from, it really opens a lens into the medical world and (makes them think) maybe being a doctor is something they should add to their list of possibilities," Williams says.

"Because you're catching them at an age where they don't know what they want to do with their life."

Drew cites figures showing that since 2005, "the number of women who have gone into surgical training" in the US has risen and she would like to think the show has something to do with it.

"They have seen a growth in women pursuing this field of work, starting from when the show came out. It's pretty cool."

•Grey's Anatomy Season 13 premieres with a double episode on Friday at 9pm on Star World (Singtel TV Channel 301 and StarHub TV Channel 501). New double episodes will air at 9pm on subsequent Fridays.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2017, with the headline 'Grey's Anatomy comes of age'. Print Edition | Subscribe