Just as the “Grey’s Anatomy” gravy train has begun hurtling toward Stupidville, series creator Shonda Rhimes has planted a spinoff full of more love-lorn doctors, built around the beguiling presence of Kate Walsh. Stocked with a topnotch cast of TV stars (some of whom, a la “The Nine’s” Tim Daly and “Day Break’s” Taye Diggs, might still have been on payroll from this season’s already canceled ABC dramas), the tentatively titled “Private Practice” exhibits considerable promise, but the larger concern might be the narrative malpractice “Grey’s” has grown dangerously close to committing.
As the relationship-challenged Addison Shepherd, Walsh has such innate appeal that it’s easy to get past the knockout looks to the goofy vulnerability. It’s somewhat less easy to forgive that the Ocean Wellness Group she visits in Santa Monica is filled with Southern California clichés — shots of the ocean, yoga, surfers — but hey, there has to be some eye candy for the landlocked masses.
Addison drops in on her friends Jackson (Diggs) and Naomi (“Alias” alum Merrin Dungey), only to discover that the two still share office space in a medical group but have divorced, for reasons that remain fuzzy. Promised “sunshine and cute boys” in L.A., Addison has come for a respite from her life in Seattle and help becoming pregnant but gets drawn into a zany paternity case that allows her to hang around the office and meet the staff.
And quite a staff it is. In addition to Diggs and Dungey, there’s the roguishly charming Pete (Daly), recently dumped psychiatrist Violet (Amy Brenneman) and sex-crazed pediatrician Cooper (“Prison Break’s” Paul Adelstein), who, fearing rejection, does most of his dating online.
As with “Grey’s,” there’s so much bed-hopping and angst over relationships that it’s a wonder anybody ever gets treated for anything. Yet Walsh and Daly exhibit palpable chemistry — an instant McBeachy with whom she can flirt and exchange furtive glances, when the gals aren’t leering at the 20-something receptionist (Chris Lowell, most recently of “Veronica Mars”).
In short, “Private Practice” has a nice grip on the formula that initially made the “Grey’s” audience swoon, featuring a slightly older but highly accomplished ensemble assembled around Walsh.
Still, as a doctor might say, that’s the good news. The bad news is that in its ludicrous love triangle involving Izzie (Katherine Heigl), George (T.R. Knight) and George’s wife, Callie (Sara Ramirez), the original series looks increasingly bereft of ideas — having exhausted so many sexual combinations among its residents that it has desperately seized on one too screwy and unbelievable to swallow.
From that perspective, think of the “Private Practice” launch as a mixed decision: The on-air fertilization seems to have taken hold, and ABC should have itself a bright, bouncing baby spinoff. In the build-up to that procedure, however, the mom was neglected and has seen her health seriously decline, creatively if not yet commercially.