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New Season: "Private Practice"

By admin Published: September 21, 2007

Premieres Wednesday.

Kate Walsh

See the Addison in this picture? Tough, smart, and not willing to offer a complete smile unless you earn it. This is the Addison I liked on "Grey's Anatomy." This is not the Addison of "Private Practice."

As she first appeared on "Grey's Anatomy," Addison was in many ways the anti-Meredith. She was decisive. She was no-nonsense. She was confrontational. She looked people in the eye. She had needs, and she was going to satisfy them, whether that meant cheating on McDreamy -- and it did -- or chasing him down to win him back -- which didn't work out quite as well.

But character consistency is not a hallmark of "Grey's." To use just one of many examples, think of Cristina losing a grip on her true self during the wedding plans. And now that Addison has moved on to "Private Practice," consistency is out the window. In the series premiere, Addison draws a direct parallel between herself and Mary Tyler Moore's Mary Richards -- a sitcom character, in keeping with the deliberately lighter tone of "Private Practice" vis a vis "Grey's," and a throwback character at that. As likable as Mary Richards was, she was commanding; she had spunk, of course, but let's not forget what Lou Grant said about spunk.

But that MTM comparison makes clear that "Private Practice," with its plush locations, its glammed-up cast*, its structure of fewer patients and more time with each -- all are designed for a lighter load than "Grey's" offered.

That should be fine, of course, since "Private Practice" is not meant to be the same as "Grey's." But what it is, is not very good. (I know. I have issues with "Grey's," too. But I'm putting those aside for the moment to deal with why I'm not enthused about "Private Practice.") It is the sort of forced comedy -- and even more forced drama -- in which characters act foolishly for no reason other than to keep the story going. There's a scene where Addison is facing a surgical situation; again, the old Addison would not hesitate, but the new Addison dithers.

I think that "Private Practice" is Shonda Rhimes's final descent into David E. Kelley-land. And not the land of "L.A. Law" or the better, early years of "The Practice." This is the David E. Kelley of "Ally McBeal" at its worst, and "Boston Legal" at its most absurd, and of shows that deservedly had short TV lives -- "girls club," for example, or that wedding-planner show whose name has for the moment blessedly fled my memory. Precious, unbelievable, and obliviously contemptuous of an audience it believes will buy anything if the actors just make it seem clever.

So "Private Practice" takes likable TV personalities -- Walsh, Amy Brenneman, Tim Daly, Taye Diggs -- and asks them to sell material that is often unsellable. It will get an audience, at least at first, because of its ties to "Grey's." It may even keep that audience, but I am no picker of hits and flops. I will be watching for another episode or two; if it's a hit, I may be around longer. But the prospect does not fill me with delight.

*Kate Walsh is alarmingly thin. Amy Brenneman appears to have some work done. Taye Diggs, I am told by the woman I watch TV with, can make the ladies sigh. On the other hand, I was surprised by the muscles on Audra McDonald, who looked ready to arm-wrestle Diggs -- and win.

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