Kate Walsh and Tim Daly are adorable, separately and together. Beyond that, alas, ABC’s eagerly awaited spinoff of “Grey’s Anatomy” initially qualifies as a disappointment — hitting completely familiar medical-drama beats while pursuing a whimsical tone it never fully achieves. Scalpels will be out given the rib from which “Private Practice” sprang, but the series still possesses enough appealing qualities to redeem itself. Stiff timeslot competition, however, should add to the pressure as the show undergoes the delicate operation of finding a coherent tone and something more distinctive to recommend it than just Walsh and Daly’s winning smiles.
Fleeing Seattle after a series of botched relationships, Dr. Addison Forbes Montgomery (Walsh) has jettisoned her married name and decided to make her flirtation with a Santa Monica wellness clinic permanent at the urging of longtime friend Naomi (Audra McDonald, having replaced Merrin Dungey), who continues to peevishly run the place with the ex-husband (Taye Diggs) who divorced her.
Yet if there was something charming about “Grey’s” interns awkwardly juggling work, life and romance (and was is the relevant word, based on last season’s second half), the cluelessness of the grown-up doctors here feels more forced and irritating, despite what amounts to an all-star TV cast and an equally pedigreed production team.
To recap from last season’s teaser within “Grey’s,” the gang includes Amy Brenneman as the shrink with a screwy love life, Paul Adelstein (“Prison Break”) as the sex-obsessed pediatrician, and the bickering exes played by McDonald and Diggs, whose “No, you left me first” interaction already feels tedious.
That leaves Walsh’s Addison, offered the chance to practice “small-town medicine” in the big city; and Daly’s Pete, a practitioner of alternative medicine to whom Addison is understandably attracted, despite viewing his specialty as one step above witch doctor.
Originally a dragon lady, Addison has developed into a latter-day “All McBeal” (she even dances, albeit without an animated baby, in the premiere) channeling Paula Abdul lyrics — forever our “girl,” her high-powered career notwithstanding. As such, she engages in a very Ally-like flirty-but-can’t-act-on-it game with her hunky co-worker, while clinging to a grand female friendship — in this case, with the bitter Naomi — to tide them over in between “boys.”
Then there are the cases through which these lovelorn doctors explore the issues in their own lives, which, again, in the premiere feel largely recycled from medical shows past — an unwanted pregnancy and a judgmental parent, a quirky spat over sperm, and a troubled woman well beyond the verge of a breakdown.
“Everyone screws up once in awhile,” Addison reassuringly tells one of her patients, which could become a temporary alibi for the program itself: “Private Practice” isn’t a full-fledged screw-up, certainly, but so far it is a serious letdown — the public kind that, in TV circles, historically follows a great big hit.