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Private Practice

Series Premiere
Cast: Kate Walsh, Amy Brenneman, Taye Diggs, Tim Daly, Paul Adelstein, Audra McDonald
Regular airtime: Wednesdays, 9pm ET

(ABC; US: 26 Sep 2007)

Shut Up

Private Practice began at the top of the hour. By seven minutes past, I was ready to turn off. After persevering with this inexcusable waste of potential, I have figured our precisely why my medical insurance premiums are so ridiculously high. It’s because doctors are idiots. It must be true: it’s on TV.


In Grey’s Anatomy, Kate Walsh’s Dr. Addison Forbes Montgomery-Shepherd appeared to be a fully-formed goddess among barely mortal lumps of clay. Now, moved 1100 miles down the West Coast, she has taken a new job without bothering to find out a single thing about what she’s getting herself into. When she arrived in Los Angeles, all Allie McBeal in a bright white coat, she was shocked to discover that only one of her new partners knew she was coming, her old college buddy Naomi (Audra McDonald), and that she’s now working, without staff, in a “birthing suite” that’s absolutely unequipped to cope with any kind of surgery. And yet the first thing she did was to accept a brand new patient in the early stages of labour, and not take enough of a medical history to discover that her patient’s mother… wait for it ... died in childbirth. Can you spell “medicolegal”? I can certainly spell “malpractice.”


And “dumb.”


Either Shonda Rhimes really hates Kate Walsh and believes that revenge is a dish best eaten Kelvin-cold, or she’s deeply committed to recycling. If Grey’s Anatomy, as Callie (Sara Ram’rez) once memorably remarked, is “high school with scalpels,” then Private Practice is a very weak Interns: All Growed Up! or maybe Addy and Naomi’s High School Reunion. With scalpels.


We should have known from ABC’s advance campaign: a clip show presented by the goss-tards of People magazine that climaxed with the “broadcast premiere” of a new music video from Coldplay rip-off merchant and Grey’s soundtrack regular Mat Kearney. From her clumsy naked dancing, through her uncharacteristically nervous countdown before making the first cut in an emergency C-section, to the embarrassing and painful soliloquy that was supposed to reveal her bad-ass goddess self, Addison seems to have been rewritten in Meredith “Meh” Grey’s own image. How else to explain that a “world class neo-natal surgeon” who wants to be chief of surgery at a major teaching hospital would take a junior spot at a fricking wellness clinic? Or to explain the myriad echoes of Grey’s, from the never-ending “shut ups” I thought had been trademarked by Meh, to the head-slappingly stupid revelation that Addison is going to be Naomi’s “someone” just as Meh was Christina’s “person” in Seattle. Someone, or some person, really needs to slap Rhimes upside her head and remind her that the reason everyone loved Addison in Grey’s Anatomy was because she wasn’t Meredith Grey!


This “someone” should also tell Rhimes that the sort of relationship she wants Addison and Naomi to enjoy works best if both bring something to the table (and the cheesecake they stole from The Golden Girls doesn’t count). If Addison appears dumbed and greyed down, Naomi lacks any substance whatsoever.


Fortunately, we have distractions. The show’s true centre of dramatic gravity can be found midway between Violet (Amy Brenneman) and Cooper (Paul Adelstein). Postergirl for the motto, “Physician, heal thyself,” Violet is a psychiatrist with abandonment issues and a side order of stalking. And Coop is a pediatrician who likes his women like he likes his coffee: cheap, with a bitter aftertaste, and ordered off the internet. Nonetheless, Violet and Coop have a monopoly on that thing called chemistry, while Naomi remains tied to her ex, Sam (Taye Diggs), and Addison appears entangled with Personality Pete (Tim Daly) in a romantic match that will go down in history—like Jane Roe and Henry Wade, or maybe David and Goliath. 


The premiere episode emphasized the Private Practice lurve scheme by giving each pair a medical subplot. Addison and Personality Pete’s anesthetic-free emergency surgery allowed them to see each other’s professional strengths and inner beauties—yuck. Naomi and Sam confronted a problem ripped from the pages of Law & Order, which they resolved by referring directly to their own relationship—yawn. And Violet and Coop worked out a tear-jerking drama in a department store, involving both psychosis and the tragic death of a child. Sadly, despite their appeal, Brenneman and Adelstein look doomed to be minor characters.


Perhaps tellingly, Private Practice opened with an awkward scene between Addison and Seattle Grace’s Chief of Surgery, Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.), that culminated with Webber promising to hold Addison’s job in Seattle open for as long as possible. I wonder if he knows something we don’t?

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