At the end of last season’s Grey’s Anatomy, smart and sexy Dr. Addison Forbes Montgomery (played by Kate Walsh) checked out of Seattle Grace Hospital and headed for private medical co-op the Oceanside Wellness Group, telling a disgruntled Richard “I want a change, I need a change, and this is how I’m going to get it. In LA, at that practice, with those people.”
As Addison said goodbye to gray Seattle skies and arrived in warm and sunny Los Angeles, her hopes were high and so were ours. Critics and viewers expected that the Grey’s Anatomy spinoff starring Kate Walsh would be the smartest, most sophisticated, and satisfying new show of the fall TV season.
Instead, we got Private Practice, a disappointing show that so far has proved unworthy of the considerable talents of Kate Walsh, Tim Daly, and the other fine actors in the cast.
The first episode of Private Practice began on a shaky note. After a flashback to last season–when Addison resigned from Seattle Grace to change her life–we fast forward to Dr. Montgomery getting out of the shower. The gray, sad sack vibe of Seattle has been replaced by sunny skies, beaches, and pop music. An attractive redhead emerges from her shower, snapping her fingers and bopping around to the music, eventually dropping her towel to dance naked in front of a window. I rub my eyes in disbelief. Can this be the same sophisticated, sultry Addison of Grey’s Anatomy? Perhaps she has a beautiful twin who is a free spirit and likes to boogie down?
That set the tone for the rest of the show, and it only goes downhill from here. We soon meet the rest of the doctors at the Oceanside Wellness Group, a group that on the outside, seems to have its act together. But on the inside, this is one dysfunctional staff.
Naomi (Audra McDonald) is the head of the practice and a fertility specialist, yet she is shown huddled on the bathroom floor with a whole cake in front of her, sobbing and stuffing food in her mouth as she cries out to her kids “Mother just needs a moment to herself.” She is frequently at odds with fellow doctor and ex-husband Sam (Taye Diggs), which leads to a lot of bickering and moping as she tries to come to terms with why he left the marriage.
Violet (Amy Brenneman) is the staff psychiatrist, a compassionate woman with a few issues of her own (she’s obsessed with a former love who has moved on and is married to someone else.) She banters (and enjoys sexual tension) with friend and colleague Cooper (Paul Adelstein), a brilliant pediatrician who loves kids but regales the office with tales of his wild sex life. Tim Daly plays Pete, a doctor who practices alternative medicine (Pete and Addison “met cute” last season when they shared one hot kiss…) Pete’s a healer and an all around nice guy; the not so subtle message here is that this is the “good guy” with the heart of gold who might be “the one” for Addison. He even tells her that she takes care of Naomi “but who takes care of you?” It seems pretty clear that he and Addison will eventually get together, no surprises there. I only wish Pete would stop giving her smarmy looks and cornering her in doorways, insisting that she moved to Los Angeles and joined the practice because of their kiss.
Rounding out the cast is KaDee Strickland as Charlotte King, the tough as nails Chief of Staff at a nearby hospital who does everything by the book, and seems to exist to make life miserable for the staff of the Oceanside Wellness Group. “Dell” is the hunky young receptionist who is studying, as he puts it, “midwiffery.” There doesn’t yet seem to be much depth or purpose yet for this character, he doesn’t make much of an impression here.
We couldn’t have a Grey’s Anatomy spinoff without plenty of sex. Sex is dealt with here in a sophomoric manner. A couple who visit the practice to give a “deposit” to fertility specialist Naomi are the object of innuendo and crude humor, as the cast crowds around the locked door, trying to listen in on the proceedings. The sensitive pediatrician might be a sex addict? And Pete is rather childish about his kiss with Addison. When a stripper is brought in during episode two, it is grist for all sorts of immature behavior. (These people went to med school?) I expected a show from the producers of Grey’s Anatomy to be soapy and sexy, but I hoped it would be smart and sophisticated, too. So far, I’ve been disappointed with Private Practice‘s adolescent antics.
On the bright side, the talented cast turns in fine performances, somehow managing to create nuanced characters out of the one dimensional scripts. Though Naomi is often stuck in anger or sadness, Audra McDonald brings a lot of dimension to what could be a one note character. It’s a pleasure to see a capable actor like handsome, charming Tim Daly back on the small screen again, he brings sincerity and decency to his role as Addison’s possible love interest. Taye Diggs as Sam shows warmth and humanity, he’s a joy to watch and an asset to the cast. Paul Adelstein as Cooper rises above the material, breathing some life into the sex obsessed doctor. Amy Brenneman is exceptional as Violet, showing us the many layers of her character. I hope there will be a Private Practice spinoff, as Brenneman deserves her own show; I find her character quite fascinating and watchable.
Watching Private Practice, the dramatic moments seem contrived and attempts to wring tears out of the audience fall flat. A man dies of a stroke at the clinic while trying to give a sperm deposit, and his wife and girlfriend fight over who will have his baby as the sperm is extracted from the body. This is an excuse for Naomi to confront her own fears of moving on as she has a heart to heart with the bitter wife about “letting go.” This all comes across as curiously unmoving, the actors try but it’s the fault of the writers. There are plenty of déjà vu moments; somehow, we feel we’ve seen all this before?
The same thing happens when babies are switched in another episode. When the babies are handed back to their biological mothers, after all the buildup, our tears should flow freely; instead, we feel manipulated. Again, I feel the faulty scripts are to blame. Private Practice needs some fresh plots and some believable, witty dialogue.
One other thing I noticed: why do a lot of the characters in the episodes I’ve seen, wind up on the floor? Pivotal dramatic moments often occur with major characters (and guest stars) sitting on the floor or crawling on the ground. Hmm. Perhaps the writers feel that this makes the big moments more dramatic? To me…it’s just distracting.
I’m sad to say that Private Practice gives us what I thought I’d never witness: the dumbing down of Dr. Addison Montgomery. Much has been made of Addison’s vulnerability and confusion as she goes through a major life transition at age 39. This has been offered as an explanation for the character’s personality changes. I don’t buy it. People can be vulnerable and confused while still retaining their basic personality traits and individuality. This is an Addison, in Private Practice, I do not recognize.
The old Addison was smart, sophisticated, and a little prickly, and we loved her for it. These days she’s gone all cute and cuddly, losing all her fire and sharper edges, and sadly, she often seems to recede into the background.
Somehow, through it all, Kate Walsh remains watchable. Walsh has an innate charisma and she’s game; I have to give her credit for trying to make it all work. Thanks to her efforts, we still care about Addison, she still beats with a heart and soul.
When Grey’s Anatomy ended last year, Addison said: “I’m changing my life, Richard.” It’s a shame that the producers and writers of Private Practice couldn’t come up with anything better for a wonderful actress like Kate Walsh and a truly original character like Addison Montgomery. I’d like to see Addison reclaim her old glamorous and sassy self. After all her confusion and heartbreak on Grey’s Anatomy, it would be great to see her get that shiny new life she hoped for.
I do believe that with its cast of talented actors, and a major overhaul of its scripts, Private Practice could be a great show. The raw material is certainly there.
So I’m going to tune in and give the gang at the Oceanside Wellness Group a little while longer, to get their act together. I’m pulling for Addison, to find herself. I only hope for her sake (and ours) that in her quest for self fulfillment, she’ll somehow come to her senses, and there won’t be any more naked “boogie down” moments in front of her neighbor’s window (the old Addison would be scandalized!)
It’s nice that once in a while, the writers let us glimpse a flash of the Addison we know and love. In the midst of impromptu surgery to save the life of a woman giving birth at the clinic, Addison says: “How you doing there, Pete?” He replies “Kicking ass and taking names, you?” She answers “Ass kicking and name taking are on my resume…”
If we had more lines like that, if Addison behaved more like that, Private Practice might end up showing signs of life.