As “Grey’s Anatomy” wears increasingly thin, series creator Shonda Rhimes tackles a similar set of challenges in its spinoff “Private Practice” — a series that proves the only thing apt to change about medical residents once they become seasoned doctors is the size of their romantic angst and depth of their high-school-level crushes. Again focusing on interlocking careers and romance, the newer show benefits enormously from its exceptional casting and emotional procedural subplots, but the risk of tripping over its creator’s penchant for milking (and milking) the intra-office shenanigans remains high.
Launched behind “Grey’s” transplant Addison (Kate Walsh), “Practice” zeroes in on Oceanside Wellness, a small Santa Monica cooperative where — in a clever device essentially used to reset the second-season lineup — the doctors speak in a marketing video about their commitment to patients. Much like “Grey’s,” though, said patients exist primarily to lay out ethical dilemmas that parallel the doctors’ personal ones.
In the premiere, the recurring themes involve commitment to family and when it’s permissible to break a confidence, even when it’s for the secret-holder’s own good. To the show’s credit, both bore deeply into the kind of medical conundrums that lacks simple answers.
At the core of Rhimes’ philosophy, however, lies a recurring sense that no matter how accomplished somebody might appear, anybody can become a babbling fool when confronted by matters of the heart. Fortunately, nobody babbles more adorably than Walsh, whose awkward dance with fellow practitioner Pete (Tim Daly) has, in a season-plus-one episode, already begun approaching the “Come on already” levels of Meredith-McDreamy tomfoolery.
Additional entanglements beset the group’s estranged married couple Sam (Taye Diggs) and Naomi (Audra McDonald) as well as platonic pals Violet (Amy Brenneman) and Cooper (Paul Adelstein).
Rhimes (who co-wrote the premiere with Marti Noxon) weaves the dense web of life-or-death medicine and romantic whimsy well enough, and the program is so slickly written and performed it’s easy to overlook the familiar patterns that are emerging; still, it would behoove both the characters and show to take a deep breath and find the key players some kind of extracurricular hobby — even if that just means lusting after strangers, perhaps, instead of co-workers.
Granted, opening up the relationships won’t ensure success, but it’s a better plan for Oceanside Wellness than having its frazzled MDs leap on a gurney together every time the music stops.