Friday, April 1, 2011

Private Practice finds "The Hardest Part"

     I was excited when ABC's awesomely casted, but often boring, Private Practice got really good this past fall. Charlotte's (KaDee Strickland) rape, the way she deals with it, and how Cooper (Paul Adelstein) helps her through things, is easily the highest point of the series thus far. That is followed by Addison's (Kate Walsh) mother killing herself, providing more well written, well acted emotional impact. But for the last month, nothing has sparked nearly that level of great writing. At least not for a full episode. There have been glimmers here and there, but sadly, the show is once again flailing.

     It's time to either put this puppy down or let it find its legs. It has already been renewed for next season, which could be used as a last effort to redeem itself. If it's really going to be this hard to find good stories for these characters, who are interesting, despite how they are sometimes seen, then it's time to end it. Use next season as a way to redeem the show, pouring every good idea ever had into one great season, and then let it gracefully bow into the night. Or get things together, realize what works (hint: focus on the doctors, not the patients!), and take it to the next level. I am very tired of it's floundering in mediocrity, and I hate any series dying a slow, painful death of decay.

    That being said, last night's final confrontation between Pete (Tim Daly) and his mother (the amazing Louise Fletcher) definitely falls on the terrific end of the spectrum. We know that Pete doesn't like his mother, and we know why. But helped along by his wife, Violet (Amy Brenneman), who is a very good therapist when she is written as such, Pete finally makes a reconnection. Of course, this is quickly followed by Sam's (Taye Diggs) pronouncement that Pete's mother doesn't have long to live. So we get Peter sitting by her bed side, and then a powerful breakdown of grief back at home. This is the stuff good Private Practice is made of.

     Cooper and Charlotte continue to be fantastic, too, even when they only get small scenes together. Cooper's story with his patient, a teenager who could lose his awesome musical abilities because of a brain surgery to remove a tumor, and the boy's grandfather who has a hard time showing his love, is sweet. Plus, I like seeing Cooper clash with Amelia (Caterina Scorsone), with whom he has a satisying but odd friendship. However, the scene where Charlotte buys Cooper a piano is even better. Sure, patient stories are fine as tools to help the doctors learn something about themselves, of expose a past trauma. They should not be the linchpin of a show like this, as they are in some of the weaker episodes, whose top selling point is its spectacular cast.

     That being said, I do appreciate a strong guest star in a small role. This week we see Vanessa Marano (Gilmore Girls, The Young and the Restless) and Laura Slade Wiggins (Shameless) as pregnant teenagers. They got in, did what they needed to do, and got out without being annoying. That may sound like an insult, but it's not. They served their purpose, and delighted people who were already fans of them (like me) who got to see them pop up on another show in a different part than what we'd already seen them do. Great job girls!

     I have advocated for Sheldon (Brian Benben) to find true love for some time. I did not mean this way. Sheldon has taken up with a therapist named Marla (Alex Kingston, Doctor Who, ER), who panned Violet's recent book. I have no problem with a new character raising conflict, of course. That's how dramas progress. But I don't see the chemistry between Marla and Sheldon. So far, I don't see much of anything to find all that exciting about Marla. I can't see her ever really fitting in with any of the other cast members, and I certainly don't want her taking Sheldon away from the group. Can't we do better for Sheldon?

     Addison is M.I.A. for her second episode in a month, as she pops over to sister series Grey's Anatomy for a part that is little more than a cameo in their special musical episode. She was always my favorite character on Grey's, but has turned into a whining, unlikable shell of the character she once was. While I love Addison and Busy's relationship in recent months, Addison's arc with Sam and wanting a baby grew stale before it even got going. I don't know why, but Addison doesn't work this way. We need to get back to the Addison that was very lovable in her cranky, flawed way.

     Also missing, though she has been missing a lot lately, is Audra McDonald's Naomi. She will be leaving good as a main character at season's end, but it seems like she's already been reduced to part-time, as this is at least the sixth episode this year she has sat out. I understand the series is trying to give the actress more time to spend with her family, which leaves all the way across the country from where the show is being made, but once the decision not to use has been made, can't some graceful send off be done? Or perhaps a role written so that she can pop in and out as she travels the world, looking to help all those who need it.

     Private Practice airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.

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