Saturday, May 05, 2007

Addison’s Adventures in LaLaLand

What can I say about Thursday night's two hour episode of Grey's Anatomy that was supposed to serve as a pilot for the proposed Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) spin-off series, tentatively titled Private Practice? I guess I can honestly say that for the first time in a very long time I was overwhelmed and underwhelmed at the same time.

How do I explain this? I guess a major thing is that the decision to make this a two hour episode and to intercut events at Seattle Grace with Addison's adventures in LaLaLand was a poor choice. I felt overwhelmed with the number of storylines that intermingled and really the effort needed to try to keep things straight. I'll get to the "underwhelmed" part shortly but suffice it to say that maybe my perspective on the whole thing would have been different if they'd presented this in a different manner. There was enough drama and conflict in the Seattle Grace part that it should have been on its own, while I would have had more of a chance to feel involved in the Addison story if it had been presented as a contiguous whole. In my mind's eye, I can see how I'd have presented it, with only minimal ties to Seattle Grace in the Addison episode (Derek asks the Chief where Addison is; cut to Addison driving down the highway into Hollywood – close the episode with Addison walking through the doors of Seattle Grace seen from the exterior of the place) and a few more mentions in the Seattle Grace episode (same scene of Derek and the Chief at the start, and seeing Addison returning to Seattle Grace from inside the hospital; maybe some more stuff in the middle). But the way the show was presented didn't do a service to either story but seemed particularly harmful to getting to know who was who and what was going on in the Oceanside Wellness Group story.

I'm not going to go into detail about the Seattle Grace side of Thursday's show. Too bad, because there are some really major developments in the George–Izzie–Callie triangle; Christina's impending nuptials with Burke and Burke's apparent worries; the gradual collapse of the Derek-Meredith relationship (again); and oh yes, the totally unexpected (and in my book unnecessary because I liked the character) death of Meredith's step-mom that seemed to happen only so we could see Meredith rejected by her remaining parent with a serious slap across the face (and no one did anything to support her – more Mer angst on the way). But that wasn`t the focus of the episode, or wouldn`t have been if this had been a one hour episode. The focus was on Addison and the pilot for the spin-off, and on that I have to say that I was underwhelmed.

As I said before part of the problem was the structure for the episode. We`d spend a bit of time in California, sometimes just a vignette, sometimes an extended sequence and then be whisked back to Seattle Grace for a scene of Christina trying on a wedding gown, or Karev spending time with Ava, the amnesiac patient injured on the ferry weeks ago. Maybe it was me but all of this didn`t leave me confused but did make it slightly hard to follow the narrative and develop a feeling for most of the characters.

After her bit of "passion" with Alex Karev in last week's episode which terminated when Alex told her "I'm not your boyfriend" (in other words ruined it in a typically Alex manner), Addison has taken a leave of absence and driven down the coast to LA to see one of her oldest friends who just happens to be a fertility specialist Naomi (Merrin Dungey). See, with no prospect of a long term relationship leading to babies, Addison has decided to go the artificial insemination route to get part of the "everything" that she thinks Naomi has. Trouble is that Naomi doesn't have everything – her marriage has broken up and she's sort of envious that Addison went off to sow while she was marrying like she should, having a kid and building a practice. Addison wants as much to take a vacation from McDreamy, McSteamy and McStiffy (sorry, Addison didn't say it, I borrowed that one from Bruno on Dancing With The Stars) and hang out on the beach. You know that isn't going to happen though – there'd be no episode otherwise – and in short order Addison is pulled into the goings on at Oceanside. It seems their OB-Gyn quit when her relationship with another doctor at the place went south, and since there's and empty office.... The other doctors in the practice are Naomi's ex, Sam (Taye Diggs) who has written one of those successful self help books (I swear, someone on the beach called him "Dr. Feelgood") and is apparently quite in love with his own image since it's plastered all over the reception area; Violet (Amy Brenneman) the resident psychiatrist who is unlucky at love (maybe it's the way she dresses when she goes to the market – Brenneman uglies up real good); Cooper (Paul Adelstein) the socially inept pediatrician who likes to meet women online and refuses to believe it when they turn out to be hookers and in this case steal his Porsche; and Pete (Tim Daly) the serial monogamous "new age" alternative medicine expert (or as my friend Orac would say, pitcher of Woo) who Addison is attracted to almost immediately. Rounding out the cast is Dell (Chris Lowell), the receptionist who wants to be with Naomi and takes his lunch breaks surfing. In other words, like Grey`s Anatomy, this backdoor pilot is full of quirky characters.

It also has some quirky cases. Violet and Sam have a husband and wife as patients. It seems that the wife has been getting hurt a lot on exercise equipment because her husband hasn`t had sex with her in a couple of years. He just doesn`t feel it. Violet`s solution is to tell him to have sex with his wife even if he doesn`t feel in the mood. As a treatment regimen it leaves something to be desired, and so does the patient`s response to the ``therapy" – he isn't able to make love to his wife leading Sam to look for a physical cause. They eventually discover a tumour on his adrenal gland, although not before the wife spends the night away from home. She tells her husband that she could have cheated but didn't. When the truth comes out about his illness she confides to Violet that she did indeed have a one night stand. The other case was more in Addison's line – a surrogate mother who had sex with two or three men after the ova was implanted in her. Of course there's a potentially life threatening complication that could be dealt with easily if the baby went to term, and of course the stress of the situation means that the surrogate can't bring the baby to term. This leads to a confrontation between Addison, who earlier learned that she'd run out of chances to have a baby of her own, and the cloud of people surrounding the case who seemed more interested in the identity of the father and whether the surrogate mother would go through with the adoption than they were with the health of the baby and the birth mother.

I'm not convinced that this show would work as a spin-off, but if it doesn't it's not because of the cast. As always Tim Daly is effortlessly charming and he certainly seems to have more than a little chemistry with Kate Walsh. I'm not overly familiar with Merrin Dungey – I never watched Alias – but she seemed to be in full "best friend" mode. Adelstein's pediatrician is mostly played for comic relief as he maintained a belief that his Internet date hadn't stolen his car right up to the time the stripped shell of his Porsche was found abandoned on the street. As for Taye Diggs I can't say that much about him. He works as the celebrity doctor and yet I found things were a little lacking when it came to his motives for splitting with his wife. Kate Walsh was great, but then Addison has rapidly become one of my two or three favourite characters on Grey's Anatomy largely due to the way that Walsh has played the character. Amy Brenneman played against the type I usually associate her by playing Violet as more than a little insecure at times.

As I mentioned, I wasn`t at all happy with the way that they decided to interweave the action in Los Angeles with the events at Seattle Grace, so that might have had an influence on the way that I regarded the writing of the Private Practice portions of the episode. I tended to find the LA portions of the episode a bit flat. It may be that part of the problem is that they seemed to have made the choice to bring the quirkiness of Grey`s Anatomy to the new show but what works with (supposedly) 20-something interns isn`t necessarily the right formula for professionals in their late 30s or early 40s who have already established their careers. There were some nice touches – Sam walking the absurdly small dog while talking with Pete near the beach was one of those moments as was Violet`s encounter with her commitment-phobic ex-boyfriend – and his new much younger wife – at the supermarket. The best scenes revolved around Addison though, whether it was Addison and the "talking" elevator or an unwilling Addison getting acupuncture from Pete to release her stress. Give Walsh this sort of scene and she sparkles. I tended to find though that there was a sometimes too conscious effort to remind us that this is Southern California and things are different here that was a bit forced. Pete, the alternative medicine practitioner, was part of this – he wouldn't have been allowed within a hundred yards of Seattle Grace. Another of those scenes was when Naomi, Addison and Violet watch Dell walk through the lobby wearing his swim trunks and carrying his surfboard. It's a scene that practically screams "this is California and we're at the beach," with a healthy dose of "women have the right to objectify younger men." It's sort of a double standard for Naomi though – she can ogle Dell but when Dell tries to start a relationship with her it's inappropriate.

The first time I saw Grey's Anatomy there was a "wow" factor at play. It wasn't that the show was particularly innovative but it took a form that I was familiar with – the sort of "young doctors" movie that had been popular in the early 1960s – and updated it by making the characters more overtly sexual. It was a different take on a form that was so familiar that it had become trite. I don't get the same "wow" factor from the Private Practice portions of Thursday's Grey's Anatomy episode. There were interesting bits and pieces, but on the whole it was, well ordinary and certainly nothing to get overly excited about. Maybe that was a result of the pilot being intermingled with the Grey's episode. Maybe it was that I at least had high expectations that weren't met because of the strength of Grey's Anatomy. Either way – or maybe for some other reason that I can't fully understand – I was distinctly underwhelmed by the Private Practice backdoor pilot. And if anyone at ABC were to ask me (which of course they wouldn't) I'd tell them to pass on Private Practice, keep Addison at Seattle Grace and Kate Walsh on Grey's Anatomy, at least until they come up with a better vehicle for her and the character.

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