By Ken Tucker
Updated October 10, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Craig Sjodin

The pleasure to be extracted from Private Practice — well, not so much pleasure as cringey curiosity — resides entirely in trying to figure out what’s really going on inside the actors’ heads as they skip through this latest Adults Are the New Spoiled Brats fantasy from Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes.

I look at an intelligent actor such as star Kate Walsh, who may have figured, ”Hey, spinning my character off Grey’s might be my only shot to lead a TV show, so I’ll play along,” and I wonder how her brain processes such lines as ”I am the interloper — I don’t lope,” which doesn’t make sense, grammatical or dramatic, no matter how valiantly she parses it.

I look at a pro’s pro such as costar Tim Daly, playing a serene alternative-medicine specialist. Daly should have had a hit with ABC’s smart, funny 2005 series Eyes; instead he’s wincing out a smile and saying to Walsh’s Addison, ”I like my women real.”

You know the plot, right? Walsh’s Dr. Addison Montgomery has left Seattle for a chichi Los Angeles medical co-op run by her college chum-turned-doctor, Naomi (Kidnapped‘s Audra McDonald, replacing Merrin Dungey from last May’s unofficial pilot on Grey’s). And…well, that’s it. The show’s all about letting Addison spread her proverbial wings and dance naked around her new apartment. By the second episode, Practice was trying for a seriousness infusion with a sick-baby plot that left Addison literally handing out tissues. The show jerks tears one minute, and then introduces an exotic-dancer subplot so the women can complain that the men are ”stripper-hugging.”

With such silly mediocrity abounding, Private Practice makes the later, loony seasons of Ally McBeal look like Frederick Wiseman documentaries. McDonald, a gifted singer and actor, is consigned to play a neurotic angry woman, consumed by the breakup of her marriage. Amy Brenneman, who soldiered through Judging Amy with dignity, gets none here as Violet, a psychiatrist who admits to stalking a former, now-married boyfriend. Another star doc is played by Taye Diggs, who makes up in muscle definition what he lacks in the nuance of his line readings. He portrays McDonald’s ex-husband, Sam, as though he’s lost the will to flex.

And there’s talent behind the camera as well: Producers include Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Mark Tinker (L.A. Law, NYPD Blue) — the latter even directed the first episode. But the only real reason to keep watching is to mull motives and pay scales, and to wish everyone wittier, more challenging work in the (near, please, near) future. C-