If there’s one positive thing to be said about the season premiere of “Private Practice,” it’s that it wasn’t as bad as the two-hour preview eisode that aired during a “Grey’s Anatomy” episode last season. But that’s kind of like saying Britney Spears’ parenting skills aren’t as bad as her performance at the VMAs.
In an attempt to tie up any loose ends, “Private Practice” opens with a scene set in Addison Montgomery’s (soon-to-be) old stomping ground, Seattle Grace Hospital, in which the natal surgeon (Kate Walsh) tells Chief of Surgery Richard Webber (James Pickens) that she wants to move to California in order to dance naked, or something to that effect. His response, “This is not my Addison,” is “Private Practice” in a nutshell. (Addison fulfills her au natural shimmying goal in the next scene, and it’s pretty much all downhill from there.)
It’s a testament to Walsh’s acting ability that she was able to make adulterous Addison (who would cheat on McDreamy?!?!) even remotely likable on “Grey’s,” let alone a fan favorite. But “Private Practice” completely transforms her character, even changing her name (she loses the “Shepherd” from her surname), and doesn’t offer fans even the slightest trace of the Addison they knew.
In tense surgical situations, where Seattle Addison would be self-assured, California Addison just appears ditsy. When giving an impassioned speech to her colleagues, old Addison was strong and intimidating. New Addison is annoying. Walsh – either intentionally or subconsciously – even seems to have adopted different speaking patterns and facial expressions for the new show.
And while the responsibility of anchoring the show undoubtedly falls on Walsh’s character and her built-in fanbase, the unlikable supporting players don’t offer much help. Tim Daly’s Pete Finch is arrogant and self-aggrandizing, assuming Addison moved to California because he kissed her in the launching episode. Paul Adelstein’s Cooper Freedman is possibly the most effeminate, whiny “ladies’ man” on prime time television, and estranged spouses Sam (Taye Diggs) and Naomi Bennett (Audra McDonald) are childish and self-centered as they drag their colleagues and anyone else who will listen into their relationship troubles.
At one point, Addison begrudgingly reminds herself, “I left a hospital with a state of the art OBGYN wing and a staff of 60…” Her audience is left equally perplexed.
In the aforementioned crossover scene, Webber tells Addison he’ll hold her old job for her as long as he can. That’s welcome news for Addison fans, because her new gig appears to be dead on arrival.