Private Practice: Season 3
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Private Practice: Season 3

Spin-offs have been part of the television landscape for as long as I can remember. Actually the first spin-off I can personally recall is the 1960 sit-com ‘Pete and Gladys’ which was the off spring of another popular comedy, ‘December Bride’. The while there are several inherent advantages to this method of creating a new show such as built in audience and the potential for cross promotion and trading guest stars to help bolster ratings not to mention the ever popular story starting on one series and finishing on the other. One spin-off that has taken advantage of all these ploys is the medical drama ‘Private Practice’. In just three years the parent network, ABC, has used each of these time tested methods to cement a place on its prime time line up for this series. I have followed both this show and its parent, ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ as part of a lifelong enjoyment of medical dramas and I have to note that "Private Practice’ is showing the first signs of an autonomous existence from it progenitor. This is a critical period for any spin-off. It will either whither in the shadow of the original show or begin to flourish on its own merits. The series is still in the process of finding itself and getting the right rhythm down but this third season did make noticeable progress in this direction. One factor helping is the general format of this series and its parent; they are both fundamentally prime time soap operas and as such are more readily conducive to establishing their own identities as unique series. This format provides implicit permission to revisit well trod themes without the stigma of being hackney. In the case under inspection here the writers go from life threatening cliff hangers to baby on the verge of death. One thing this series has been able to do is realize it is a soap opera and just go for it.

Like its predecessor, ‘Private Practice’ was developed by the creators of Grey’s Anatomy’, Shonda Rhimes. Some may not realize the diversity this woman has in her repertoire having scripted the light hearted movie sequel, ‘The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement’ and the award winning bio-pic ‘Introducing Dorothy Dandridge’. Okay, she is responsible for the Brittany Spears vanity flick, 'Crossroads’ but considering the direction her career has been taken this early opus can be forgiven. This kind of a background gave Rhimes a firm foundation as a story teller able to blend dramatic elements with a touch of humor. Medical dramas traditionally are well suited for the soap opera approach since it is a situation that easily provides a story with sufficient elements to sustain the tale for a long stretch. Centering the series on a pediatrics/fertility practice is a brilliant idea. Pregnancy and sick children make for excellent tension. This is not intended to be a callous comment just a fact. Pregnant women and babies are a sure fire plot device when heart strings need to be tugged by writers.

The series was created to expand the character of Dr. Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh), a well known neonatal surgeon and ex-wife to Seattle Grace’s Dr. McDreamy. On that series the only impediment to her character was being married to the titular character’s love interest. Now in Santa Monica, California she has left the world of being an attending in the hospital to share her practice with a group of other doctors. One of the main sources of friction is the conflict between her highly scientifically oriented approaches to medicine with that of her new partner, Dr. Pete Wilder (Tim Daly), a specialist in alternative medicine. With such diametrically different view of healing you know that there would be a romantic attraction between the two. In this season the practice has survived a period of financial uncertainty that ultimately resulted in Addison taking charge. Her surgical expertise comes in handy when one of her partners, Dr. Violet Turner (Amy Brenneman), the group’s psychiatrist, who is pregnant. After a true soap opera plot point of being kidnapped and drugged by a psychotic former patient mother and baby go into the season alive and well. Violet is also an apex in a romantic triangle that includes Pete and Addison. The practice’s fertility specialist is Naomi Bennett (Maya Bennett), a multi-credited doctor expert in reproductive endocrinology, obstetrics and gynecology. She is the best friend to Addison and ex-wife of the practice’s new age super star, Dr. Sam Bennett (Taye Diggs), a bestselling author in the self help genre. In the more tradition medical realm he is a board certified Internal Medicine and Cardiothoracic surgeon. He has been friends with Addison since medical school and near the beginning of this season some heat develops between the old friends. They decide not to pursue the relationship in difference to Naomi. For a group of medical professionals their ability to sustain relationships seems to have stalled somewhere in high school. Couples pair up, hook up and break up with clock work regularity. There is a visit from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ in the form of that show’s little powerhouse, Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson). She comes to town for a kidney transplant, a story arc that crossed over. While this series has made great strides in gaining its independence there has been bit of a gap over on ‘Grey’s set. In this case the producers used to crossover to give a little bump to both shows.

Posted 09/07/2010

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