Private Practice



9-10 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26

The blockbuster success of "Grey's Anatomy" has proved to be something of a mystery to me. I mean, a hospital as a pulsating inferno of ravenous libidos? Being in such close proximity to pneumonia and canned fruit cocktail seems to be a huge aphrodisiac for hot young medical professionals. Who knew?

But popular it is, which can only mean the inevitable strike-while-the-iron-is-hot spinoff. That would be ABC's "Private Practice," created and exec produced by "Grey's" mastermind Shonda Rhimes, which represents her tribute to the benefits of wreaking havoc and starting over.

The debut hour paints a calculatedly broad and incessantly soapy portrait of one doctor's new life in sunny Southern California. Yes, the colorfully named Dr. Addison Forbes Montgomery (Kate Walsh) has left Seattle Grace following her broken marriage to Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey) and tattered relationship with Mark "McSteamy" Sloan (Eric Dane) to set up shop at a quirky and chic co-op medical establishment in Santa Monica. But new life or no, it still looks like Addison is going to be driven by her genitalia.

This is Walsh's big moment, of course, though the early returns seem to confirm that she's an odd choice to carry her own drama series. Her inherent blandness is covered by the confident performances of her co-stars in the opener.

The talented cast isn't quite as successful in getting past the shortcomings of a teleplay (from Rhimes, naturally) that's typically light on believability and heavy on the outrageous. Capturing lightning in a bottle twice in a row is Rhimes' tall challenge here, and it's uncertain at best that this is going to be the vehicle that delivers it. Then again, I didn't see the "Grey's" freight train coming, either.

The opener introduces surgeon Addison to her new wary mates at Oceanside Wellness Center, having ditched Seattle Grace and all of its resultant broken hearts. She was recruited by her med school pals, Drs. Naomi and Sam Bennett (Audra McDonald, Taye Diggs). They're newly divorced and quietly contemptuous of each other, so their new colleague feels right at home. Once inside the door, she meets serial dating pediatrician Dr. Cooper Freedman (Paul Adelstein), the equally lovelorn psychiatrist Dr. Violet Turner ("Judging Amy" star Amy Brenneman) and cocky alternative medicine guru Dr. Pete Wilder (the ever-dependable Tim Daly).

It says everything about "Private Practice" that its characters are far more defined by their shattered love lives than their work in medicine. I don't know about you, but when I have someone repairing my torn aorta, it means a lot to have them locked onto their carnal fixation. And while everyone went to pieces last Sunday when Sally Field dared utter the word "goddamned" during an Emmy speech, ABC appears to have liberated itself from such mundane concerns. The premiere here includes storylines centering on a girlfriend looking to harvest sperm from the testes of her older boyfriend who died while masturbating (take that, Fox!) and another about a teenage girl whose life may need to be sacrificed during childbirth for that of her newborn -- this, on a 9 p.m. show.

It's nice to see that such self-flagellating egomaniacs can get it together long enough to actually practice medicine, albeit intermittently. While "Private Practice" works to evoke the same hip vibe as "Grey's," it's less successful than its parent in juxtaposing the light with the heavy. It features a moving story at the end that focuses the lens on a traumatized mother struggling to come to terms with a child's death some time before. But the show doesn't really seem to know yet what it wants to be when it grows up -- IF it grows up. It's in tough opposite hyped newbies "Bionic Woman" (NBC) and "Gossip Girl" (CW) as well as the retooled "Criminal Minds" on CBS. Good luck, doc.

ABC Studios
Creator-teleplay: Shonda Rhimes
Executive producers: Shonda Rhimes, Betsy Beers, Marti Noxon, Mark Gordon, Mark Tinker
Co-executive producer: Andrea Newman
Supervising producer: Michael Ostrowski
Producers: Jenna Bans, Ann Kindberg
Co-producer: Lauren Schmidt
Associate producers: Hans Van Doornewaard, Chris Van Dusen
Director: Mark Tinker
Director of photography: Lex DuPont
Production designer: Greg Melton
Costume designer: Mimi Melgaard
Editor: Matt Ramsey
Music: Alexandra Patsavas
Sound mixer: Geoff Patterson
Casting: Linda Lowy, John Brace, Will Stewart
Dr. Addison Forbes Montgomery: Kate Walsh
Dr. Pete Wilder: Tim Daly
Dr. Naomi Bennett: Audra McDonald
Dr. Cooper Freedman: Paul Adelstein
Dr. Charlotte King: KaDee Strickland
William Dell Parker: Chris Lowell
Dr. Sam Bennett: Taye Diggs
Dr. Violet Turner: Amy Brenneman
Dr. Richard Webber: James Pickens Jr.
Biff: Bruce Nozick
Maria: Stacy Edwards
Leslie: Rebecca Mader
Jenny: Moon Zappa
Paul: Max Arciniega Jr.
Lucy: Marcella Lentz-Pope