Grey’s Anatomy’s maligned little sibling Private Practice has been troubled since day one. Practice was originally introduced to audiences in a 2 episode cross-over within the world of Grey’s. Addison (Kate Walsh), disillusioned with her life in Seattle, visits some old friends in Los Angeles and whilst there, is offered a job at their practice, a holistic family wellness centre. Now, just the mere mention of the term ‘wellness centre’ was enough to send critics sniggering to their keyboards, and admittedly, it does sound pretty new-aged-wanky. Then, after a complete lack of chemistry between Addison and her supposed best friend Naomi Bennett, the role of Naomi was re-cast with the superb Broadway veteran Audra McDonald replacing the talented and likable Merrin Dungey of Alias fame. Personally, I think the blame for this lack of chemistry can’t fall solely to the actors, but also lays somewhat with the writers, who managed to craft a truly woeful set-up, complete with a talking elevator, and a storyline that saw Naomi wary and unconvinced of Addison’s actions and desires. Furthermore, this set-up saw the two best buddies on frosty terms with Addison unaware that Naomi and her husband Sam (Taye Diggs) were now divorced, Addison having ignored her calls and messages for over a year whilst too caught up in her own self pity. These circumstances were certainly not conducive to chummy best friend antics. Moreover, Practice was also hurt by the writers strike, being a first season show having to break for the strike after only nine episodes left the show vulnerable to losing its still building audience, much like other strike casualty Pushing Daisies.
Much has also been made of the cast of Private Practice, with some big names taking up residence in the wellness centre. As mentioned, Audra McDonald is a sensational Broadway actress, having won 4 Tony awards; whilst she has done television before, Practice represents her first substantial regular television role. Television favourite Amy Brenneman also stars as the resident emotionally rattled psychologist, along with television veteran Tim Daly (brother of Tyne Daly, Brenneman’s mother in Judging Amy), the alternative medicine practitioner. Then of course there’s Paul Adelstein, who I personally didn’t know much of before seeing him first on Prison Break as the creepy guy chasing down Sarah and Michael, but apparently he was a cast member on Rob Thomas’ former brainchild (and soon to be re-booted) Cupid. Here, he plays sensitive man-whore paediatrician Cooper, best friend to Brenneman’s Violet. Other notables include the already mentioned Taye Diggs, who it seems can now finally live down his completely unfortunate and unfair ‘show-killer’ status; fellow former Rob Thomas employee Chris Lowell, from the brilliant-but-cancelled Veronica Mars, and of course Kate Walsh herself.
Although critics continue to not take this show seriously, and it is easy to do with some of the kooky plot-lines, I believe the remarkable cast is what makes this show consistently watchable. In the hands of lesser actors, it would have already been relegated to a ghost of series-television’s past. A few weeks ago in the US, Private Practice enjoyed a crossover experience with its sibling Grey’s Anatomy, a medical emergency with Addison’s brother (Grant Show) requiring the expertise of the best neurologist around, whom is of course, Addison’s ex-husband; awkward. This little promotional stunt only highlighted for me the strength of Practice and cemented in my mind that Grey’s is officially struggling. The little school-yard squabbles and childish antics can only take a show so far, and for Grey’s I think their number is nearly up. Private Practice and Grey’s Anatomy are currently airing here in Australia on Channel Seven, back-to-back Thursday nights from 8:30pm.