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Reviewed by Will Harris
emember the good old days, when spin-offs used to be exciting? You’d have a hugely popular show, then you’d take one of the supporting characters and give them their own show, with the character ruling the roost of his / her own series while still popping up on the original series once in awhile, usually during sweeps. These days, you don’t see it happen like that very often. Networks are scared to mess with a good thing, so the spin-offs tend not to occur until the original series is over, such as on “Frasier” or “Joey.”
“Private Practice,” however, is cut from the old-school mold, taking one of the major players in “Grey’s Anatomy” – Dr. Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) – and having her leave Seattle Grace Hospital in favor of a new gig with – you guessed it – a private practice in Los Angeles. Although the excitement over the announcement of this new series was likely rather muted for those who weren’t existing “Grey’s” fans (personally, I’d never seen a single episode of the show until the two-part “The Other Side of This Life,” which served as the so-called “backdoor pilot” for “Private Practice”), the cast turned out to be so impressive that even non-fans were intrigued. Tim Daly? Taye Diggs? Amy Brenneman? Any one of those actors can and have headlined their own series, so why on earth have they all converged into this one show?
That’s an excellent question, but it’s one for which I have no answer. “Private Practice” may have a great ensemble, but it is not a great show, nor does it ever come close to being a good show.
The concept of taking Addison out of the rush-and-push atmosphere of the hospital and putting her into a slow-moving co-op seems promising enough, but it feels pat from the very beginning. It’s Addison’s former med-school classmate, Dr. Naomi Bennett (Audra McDonald), who welcomes her into the group, but Naomi’s ex-husband, Sam (Diggs), is also a member of the practice; he and Naomi are constantly battling with each other, but given the constant jealousy each of them experiences when the other goes on a date, we’re constantly given the feeling that they’re only one drunken night away from getting back together again. Addison has a thing for Pete Wilder (Daly), the resident alternative medicine specialist, while pediatrician Cooper Friedman (Paul Adelstein, “Prison Break”) is crushing hard on psychiatrist Violent Turner (Brenneman), who’s still pining for her ex. Oh, and there’s also Dell Parker (Chris Powell, “Veronica Mars”), who’s smitten with Naomi in a big, big way. So, basically, everyone in the practice has the hots for someone else in the practice. C’mon, now, how much of a soap opera can we make this thing?
Oh, but wait, there’s more! After all, we haven’t even begun to touch on the various medical issues dealt with by the practice. Thanks to there being both a fertility specialist and a pediatrician on staff, there are more heartstring-tugging tales about babies and children than you can shake a stick at. And while it’s accepted by most viewers that medical processes will be sped up in a highly unrealistic fashion for the sake of progressing the drama, anyone who thinks the in vitro fertilization process is as speedy and uncomplicated as it’s presented in the season finale is kidding themselves. (Granted, I owe my daughter’s existence to in vitro, so I have a bit of an advantage in knowing what’s real and what’s not, but, seriously, it’s been simplified to a ridiculous degree and presented with an optimism that just isn’t backed up by statistics.) Otherwise, the various maladies always seem to dovetail directly into the personal lives of the physicians, such as when Sam ends up making a house call to a robbery in progress, or when the new wife of Violet’s ex-girlfriend turns up as a patient at the clinic.
When it comes right down to it, the only thing that’s consistently good about “Private Practice” is the cast. But, then, you probably already got that idea. The material might be sub-par, but the actors’ collective charisma is enough to keep you tuning in from episode to episode when you’re watching the entire first season on DVD. If you were watching “Private Practice” on a week-by-week basis, however, I’d think you’d soon find yourself finding it less and less of a must-see show, eventually working it out of your rotation altogether. Sure, you might rent it, but that’s not going to keep it on the air, now, is it?
Special Features: Inexplicably, the episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” which served as the backdoor pilot for “Private Practice” is not included on this set. This is a shameful omission, given that there are only nine episodes here, leaving plenty of room for its inclusion, but, at the same time, it serves to suggest that even ABC knows that it’s pretty much only existing “Grey’s” fans who are tuning in to this series. Those individuals will, however, be pleased with “Practice Makes Perfect,” which places a lengthy spotlight on Kate Walsh’s career, the backstage look entitled “Alternative Ensemble,” and usual suspects like audio commentaries, outtakes and deleted scenes. There are also two extended episodes, but let’s face it: they aren’t extended enough to fix what’s wrong with them.