”Private Practice”: Naomi’s stripper crisis
Settling in to watch the second episode of Private Practice last night, I was determined to follow the advice I had been given upon moving from New York to Los Angeles: ”Don’t compare L.A. to New York.” Good advice when in a new city. And good advice when getting used to the spin-off of a beloved series, right? I said to myself, ”Don’t compare Private Practice to Grey’s Anatomy; take the new show for what it is, not what it’s not.”
But all that positive intention flew out the window when we started episode 2 in medias res. That’s the Latin term for the literary/theatrical technique of beginning in the middle of the action. Which can be exciting if you have, say, a Greek chorus, or a voice-over narration from Meredith Grey to help guide the audience through the story. But if you don’t, and the writers of the show assume you know that (a) Cooper ordered a surprise stripper for Sam to get his newly single friend back in the swing of things, (b) that everyone’s at Addison’s house (um, how did they all get in Addison’s house? And why is Violet there if she doesn’t know what the ”surprise” is?), and (c) that Naomi is coming over because she’s Addison’s friend, and Addison just happens to live next door to Sam (remember Addison’s towel dance?). Oy! I’m exhausted already.
If you don’t know these characters — I’m still trying to remember all their names — this is kind of confusing. And though I vowed not to, I must compare it to Grey’s. When that show started, we were introduced to the characters just as they were all starting their internships; little by little, we discovered intriguing things about each one of them — like that Izzy had been a model — just as they were finding out those things about each other.
Last week’s episode of PP made it very clear that we’re on Addison’s journey in a new place; she’s throwing her hat ”all the way up in the air.” But where, I ask, is the journey? Everything we’re learning about these characters is already done: Violet (who, in my head, I keep calling Olive) is distraught over a bike she bought for some guy she used to go out with, whom we haven’t even met; Cooper is upset about not having been able to save that little baby, but we never got to see him care for her; Naomi and Sam divorced, but we know almost nothing about it. And whatever Addison is learning about her new colleagues she immediately dismisses, as she did with Pete’s ”aromatherapy.”
After last night’s show, my friend Dean and I tried to think of one TV drama that had started its story in the middle of things, but we couldn’t. They’re always about discovering something new: Pushing Daisies, Men in Trees, Dirty Sexy Money, Lost, Ugly Betty — those are all ABC shows that, in their first season, were almost all about discovering a new world, a new phenomenon, new people, one’s new self. PP could be about that, but what are we really discovering here? They already know all about each other. What journey are we on? Where are we going?
Oh, we’re going…to someone’s home to make a house call! Sam was talking aloud to himself as he approached the house, muttering about Naomi knowing about the stripper. That’s pretty realistic, actually. But when no one answered the door, Sam broke a window to get in as a confused-looking old woman stood by. Did she realize he’s a doctor, or did the old white woman think the young black man was a burglar breaking in? Unclear. Like so many things already.
Ooh — time for a commercial break and…Beyoncé! She looked great! I love how this Amex ad makes her seem real and sympathetic. (”I’ve been to Madrid so many times, and I’ve never seen Madrid.” Poor little international superstar.) But then the whole narrative went off the rails: Instead of going into a store and buying her nephew a boomerang with her American Express card, Beyoncé ended up lounging on a hotel-room sofa, shopping online — for a boomerang?
Back to Grandma, who was standing by while her son collapsed and her grandson tried to revive him. Something’s awry here. But before we could know anything, it was back to Naomi, bitching with Addison about Sam. And we had our first major Grey’s-like dialogue repetition of the evening: ”Sam’s stripper, Sam’s stripper, say it,” Addison told Naomi.
”Sam’s single, I’m single, so single, and single people move on,” Naomi said.
And away we went. Violet (Olive?) bought Alan, her may-as-well-be-imaginary boyfriend, a $6,000 bike from Italy! She was very upset. Luckily, Amy Brenneman is a very good actress, so she can pull this off. Meanwhile, the receptionist/surfer boy who hasn’t removed his shirt since last season/midwife in training told Naomi his professor calls her a ”primal life-giver.” Is he crushing on Naomi? Addison, of course, needed to be stroked a little too and so listed her qualifications: double-board-certified neonatal surgeon with, ah, heck, that’s enough.
NEXT: Who’s your daddy? Where’s your baby?
And it’s time for the other story line of the evening: the sick baby, who…does not belong to her parents! Which led us back to St. Ambrose Hospital, that horrible institution run by the most unlikely incredibly young chief (though I suppose not as young as Grey’s chief resident, Callie — am I comparing again?). Boy, Charlotte’s a bitch.
Have you noticed that nothing on Private Practice seems to be private? Every office in Oceanside Wellness has walls of windows, with blinds that are always open. So anytime someone is having a seemingly private moment, breaking down crying, or getting angry, someone is always watching from outside the room. Even when Sam’s at home, his friends-colleagues are next door watching him watch a stripper (er, ”entertainer”). And when he’s sitting on his deck with his dog, Buddy, his ex-wife is on Addison’s deck next door, drinking wine (no cheesecake this time, but still celebrating the moments of their lives, these two) and gazing up at him. Really: No privacy.
But there were some good one-liners last night. There was Sam’s about Kunta Kinte and then Cooper on Violet’s ”sad, Alan-y, ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ bike.” And Addison got one in: ”He’s all, ‘I’m a doctor, my touch heals,’ ” she said, mocking Pete as he met the stripper — er, entertainer. See? A glimpse of the smart, sassy Addison.
And then the story lines heated up: Grandma brought her grandson in — ”Pukeville.” The dad wanted his money back for his defective baby. The doctors had some more snacks, and Addison suddenly channeled Jessica Fletcher, solving the crime and confronting the criminal — again, in front of everyone.
Oh, another commercial break! This one had an ”exclusive” sneak peek of the next episode of Dirty Sexy Money. Didn’t they used to call these promos? This was basically two scenes edited together so they ran really fast. Not as enticing as you would hope.
And again we got tonight’s theme: Adults are there to protect children. Okay, here’s my final comparison to Grey’s Anatomy for the week: On that show, when there’s a thematic connection among the story lines, as there almost always is, the theme is also woven into what’s going on with the show’s main characters. So if an episode of Grey’s were, like this, about parents never leaving their children behind, they would gracefully tie in a story line about, say, Meredith’s mother being ”absent” in her Alzheimer’s. But here we know nothing about the characters, really, and so there are no parent issues to mine. In fact, while they’re declaring that a mother never leaves her child behind, I’m left wondering something: Did Naomi and Sam leave their daughter on that Grey’s episode last season? Because ever since they came back on Private Practice this fall, and Merrin Dungey magically became Audra McDonald, that girl’s been MIA! Leave no child behind, Shonda Rimes!
I realize I’ve been pretty critical of PP so far. But I can’t help having higher expectations for this show. Plus, I see how good these actors are: Audra McDonald, Amy Brenneman — every emotional moment they have is absolutely believable, even when their dialogue isn’t. (Um, Naomi’s a catch because she eats vegetables?)
So, TV Watchers, was the moment between Pete and Addison, in which he laid out what really turns him on (”real skin, real breasts, real lines around their eyes…”) charming and enticing or just heavy-handed? Are the great one-liners (like Sam’s ”And we’re back to crazy”) enough to warrant calling this show a comedy? Did seeing bitchy Charlotte cry make us sympathetic toward her too soon, or are they creating a character who’s complicated and therefore real? Were those offspring of Violet Beauregard on the promo for next week’s episode? I hope so!