Even in its backdoor pilot that aired as an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" in May, there was something off about ABC's "Private Practice" (9 tonight, WTAE). At the time, I couldn't exactly put my finger on it, other than the fact that lead Kate Walsh seemed like a guest star in what should be her show.
Watching tonight's premiere, my concerns about the new series started to come into focus. Where "Grey's" was a bottom-up show starring a mostly unfamiliar cast, "Private Practice" has an ensemble of actors who are stars in their own right and who have toplined their own series. It's a top-down style of making TV, and while there's nothing wrong with that, it doesn't sync with the existing "Grey's" universe.
And although creator Shonda Rhimes promised this summer that the "Private Practice" characters would be more grown-up, there's still a lot of whining.
- Starring: Kate Walsh.
- When: 9 tonight, ABC.
In the "Private Practice" premiere, Dr. Addison Forbes Montgomery (Walsh) tenders her resignation at Seattle Grace and moves to Santa Monica to join the Oceanside Wellness Group co-op. But her best friend, fertility and hormone specialist Naomi (Audra McDonald), has failed to tell the rest of the staff about hiring her. That annoys Naomi's ex-husband, internist Sam (Taye Diggs, "Day Break"), who lives in the surfside house next to the one Addison moves into and dances around naked without the shades drawn.
On her first day at Oceanside, Addison discovers she has no staff and has to deliver a baby with only the help of office receptionist/midwife-in-training William Dell Parker (Chris Lowell) and alternative medicine specialist Dr. Pete Wilder (Tim Daly, "Wings," "The Fugitive"), who thinks she moved to town because they kissed on her last visit.
Meanwhile, co-op psychiatrist Dr. Violet Turner (Amy Brenneman, "Judging Amy"), who's stalking her married ex-boyfriend, teams with pediatrician Dr. Cooper Freedman (Paul Adelstein, "Prison Break") to untangle the mystery of a patient who loses it in a department store.
Late in the episode, Addison describes her day with its "crazy MacGyver surgery," which is a cute acknowledgement of the plot's overbaked drama, but it doesn't excuse it. What's more, as her naked dance shows, Addison has been robbed of some of her most endearing traits. When introduced on "Grey's," she was a character viewers loved to hate. But over time, she was revealed to be a damaged soul who was hurting. She was often sad, vulnerable and tragic. In "Private Practice," she's suddenly much more proactive and occasionally wacky. Where did the other Addison go?
Perhaps into a new character: Dr. Charlotte King (KaDee Strickland, "The Wedding Bells"), the chief of staff at a nearby hospital who clashes with the co-op doctors. But she also comes across as the only adult on the premises.
While I understand the big-star approach to casting "Private Practice" from an initial business standpoint -- an effort to get fans of these actors and/or their past series to tune in -- it does seem like a house of cards to create an ensemble stocked with high-profile egos.
How long until any one of these actors realizes he or she is not the star and begins to demand more screen time? Perhaps they're older and wiser and that concern is unfounded, but I wouldn't count on it.