The ”Private Practice” premiere: A tough delivery
New beginnings can be tough. It takes courage to shake things up, to buck others’ expectations. But Addison Forbes Montgomery (how quickly she shed the Shepherd!) was determined to leave rainy Seattle and her mess of a marriage behind to start fresh in sunny Santa Monica, Calif. I know a thing or two about new beginnings myself, which is why I’m writing this TV Watch — but we’ll talk about me later.
As the premiere episode of the ”most anticipated new show of the season” opened last night, Addison got right to the point: ”I want to wear jeans! I want to walk on the beach! I want to dance naked! I want to be wild and free!” Okay, so she rambled a bit, but then Seattle Grace’s Chief offered a succinct assessment: ”You want to throw your hat all the way up in the air.”
”Yes, I want to throw my hat all the way up in the air!” replied Addison.
With that, everything we needed to know about the Grey’s Anatomy spin-off Private Practice was firmly established:
A. They want Addison to be the new Mary Tyler Moore, though her smile may not be the only thing she uses to turn the world on. Cut to Addison dancing naked in her new house on the beach, in full view of her (sadly, clothed) neighbor and colleague Sam (Taye Diggs).
B. The dialogue on Practice will be as quirkily — and maddeningly — repetitive as it is on the mother ship. Seriously? Seriously.
The opening sequence also masterfully set up every main character. Unfortunately, it made clear that each of these highly educated 30- and 40-somethings has no idea how to act his/her age: Violet (Judging Amy‘s Amy Brenneman) is a psychiatrist who’s stalking her now-married ex-boyfriend; Cooper (Prison Break‘s Paul Adelstein) is a pediatrician who has a, uh, childlike way of running his own life; Pete (The Sopranos‘ Tim Daly) practices Eastern medicine and thinks he’s Buddha’s gift to women; Naomi (The Bedford Diaries‘ Audra McDonald) is a fertility specialist who has a 55 percent stake in Oceanside Wellness, but she’s a wreck over her divorce; and Sam (Diggs), her ex, is an internist whose best-selling book just might be a load of crap.
What this opening scene, and the whole episode, glossed over was that Addison’s BFF (or should I say BBFF?), Naomi — who had been played by Alias‘ Merrin Dungey when this whole spin-off thing was introduced on Grey‘s last season — is now being played by Audra McDonald. That kind of preseason trade happens all the time (on The CW’s Aliens in America Gilmore Girls‘ Scott Patterson replaced some now-forgotten actor in the re-shot pilot), but we almost never get to see it play out on air. Plus, there’s no indication so far that McDonald’s other talents will be seen on this show. So I’ll give you a taste (and another one here) of the tremendous gift that has earned McDonald four Tony Awards.
But enough about all of them — let’s talk about me! Four months ago, I was living in New York City and visiting L.A. for work. During that trip, I got roped into writing my first blog on ew.com. That same week I was driving down Wilshire Boulevard when I had an epiphany: I should move to L.A.! I had been an editor, but I was ready to write, and after 15 years in New York City, I’d had enough of schlepping on the subway, squashed between smelly strangers. I wanted to bike on the beach! I wanted to hike! I wanted to sit in traffic! (Okay, maybe that last one’s a lie.)
After returning home and pondering it for a few weeks, I floated the idea to my bosses, Rick and Henry. And seven weeks ago…I moved to L.A. to be a writer for EW. (Thanks, Rick and Henry!) I had intended to settle in Addison’s neighborhood of Santa Monica, but I didn’t find what I liked there — and I can’t afford a place on the beach — so I’m living inland. Like Addison, I’ve had a fresh start. So far, so good!
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming, already in progress:
As I watched the story line about the woman who wanted her boyfriend’s sperm after he’d died of a stroke while trying to ”get it in the cup,” I couldn’t help thinking how similar this situation is to making a spin-off of a successful TV series. Seriously? Seriously! Now, Grey’s isn’t dead, but it sure had a rough time last season, so to ensure its longevity in a form that’s more creative than Grey’s Anatomy: Miami, ABC and Grey’s creator Shonda Rimes reached into the vas deferens (sorry) of that show’s cast to extract the character whose life force is the basis for this new series. It’s a painful process, I can only imagine. (By the way, it’s also for real), and pretty controversial.)
NEXT: Serious issues
The biggest problem this show will have to overcome is the fact that every character is dumb. And I don’t mean that flippantly; I literally mean they’re stupid. A man comes to Oceanside Wellness with his young daughter, who’s about to give birth. He’s angry that she hid her pregnancy from him, but only when she goes into congestive heart failure during the birth does he mention that her mother died in childbirth. Dumb! Then there’s Violet, the psychiatrist, who encounters her patient having a psychotic break in a shopping mall, and says aloud, ”What the hell happened to her?” Dumb!
But Addison gets the prize. This woman left Seattle and moved to California without realizing she wouldn’t have a staff or a hospital room for her births? And she’s an ob-gyn who doesn’t know the word midwifery? And when she grudgingly allowed Buddha Boy Pete to assist in the birth, she seemed to have no understanding of his qualifications, even though he’s a doctor. Still, he used acupuncture instead of anesthesia. ”Are you sure she’s not going to feel anything?” Addison asked Pete. ”I’m sure,” he said. ”Are you really, really, really sure?” she asked, like an 8-year-old child.
Eastern medicine: 1. Western medicine: 0.
So, TV Watchers, will Addison’s new beginning earn her a place in the television pantheon alongside such superb spin-off subjects as George Jefferson and Frasier Crane? Or will she go down with the likes of Chachi Arcola and Joey Tribbiani? Do you find the dialogue repetition charming or annoying? How many episodes will it be before Addison and Pete sleep together, and then, inevitably, Addison and Sam? Should the celebrate-the-moments-of-your-life cheesecake-sharing scene between Addison and Naomi be a weekly occurrence? Are you thrilled that they dropped the damn talking elevator? Still, is the cutesy Private Practice missing some of the — dare I say — gravitas of Grey’s? Bottom line: Will the rocky birth that this show is having yield a healthy baby series that will grow and mature into a fine adult drama?