As you know, "Grey's Anatomy" launches in a few hours with a major two-hour, eighth-season premiere, and as I watched the vast spread, I had but one thought in mind: Is this the end for Patrick Dempsey?
Yes, there's been plenty of speculation on this subject, and he's fueled much of it himself -- most notably, comments in Italian Vogue, later retracted, that this would indeed be his last season. Watch and quite possibly the same impression will wash over you, but Dempsey looks weary. You see it in veteran actors from time to time -- that inescapable sense that they just can't phone it in anymore.
The story line, of course, has him in a royal snit over Meredith's presumed tampering with his Alzheimer's trial, and the impact that'll have on her tenure at Seattle Grace -- no spoilers in this post.
Moreover, her actions will affect their new parenthood dramatically as well (they adopted Zola from Malawi last season.) He spends most of these two hours in a slow boil . . . You've seen it all before -- which is precisely the problem. You've seen it all before.
What's next for Dempsey if he does leave? Possibly professional racing. That's right -- McDreamy's a rising star on the Grand-Am circuit, and while I'm not certain whether he's actually won any races yet, he's had some very respectable finishes in some very tough fields. He's clearly an excellent driver, and quite possibly loves the sport more than this gig.
Of course, there's been a lot of stuff in the press on this so I'm telling you nothing new here, but I would direct you to this very good ESPN piece on Dempsey and his team. He's clearly earned the respect of his competitors and clearly the respect of ESPN -- which doesn't write off his racing passion as the obsession of a pampered overpaid Hollywood actor, but as the real deal. He told the website:
"I've done 'Grey's' for so long; how do you keep it fresh and engaging?" he says. "With racing, you're expecting the unexpected. It's exhilarating, like IMAX on steroids."
Keep a couple other things in mind: "Grey's" is on a downward decline; last year's finale fell under 10 million viewers, which has never happened for "Grey's," and the entire seventh season fell into a major swoon.
I don't know what's going on, but I do know that Dempsey, Sandra Oh, and Ellen Pompeo have openly mused about life after "Grey's," and without these three -- I think I can fairly surmise — there would be no more "Grey's."
Photo: Actor Patrick Dempsey in the pits during practice for the EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. (Sept. 16, 2011)