Now, after having delivered a diatribe against Rhimes, you might think that her work as a writer is completely without merit. I’d be inclined to dismiss her completely, if it were not for the fact that there was one series of hers I liked. What may make this harder to accept is the fact that I don’t think I ever saw a single positive review of this series online or in any entertainment journal. Just admitting to having watched it may damage my credibility as a critic, but I actually thought Private Practice wasn’t nearly as horrible as the rest of the community seemed to think.
Admittedly, my reasons for watching the series were less because of the talent behind the camera and more the talent in front of it. I hadn’t reached critical mass with Grey’s Anatomy yet, but there were enough good actors connected with the series that made me want to follow despite my misgivings about Rhimes. In addition to Kate Walsh, who had been one of the few solid things about the series first couple of season, I was impressed by the fact that Rhimes had managed to recruit Taye Diggs, Audra McDonald, Tim Daly, and Amy Brenneman all actors whose work I admired.
I always felt the series worked better than Rhimes’ other shows because it was a lot simpler.. Just as Oceanside Wellness involved more involvement with the patients, the series was much more involved in characters than the others. At least one got the impression that the doctors involved were competent, and they gave a damn as advocates for their patients, a feeling I never got from the doctors at Grey’s Anatomy. And unlike the other series in Rhimes oeuvre, you got the feeling that relationships and friendship meant something. When Izzy Stevens slept with George on Grey’s Anatomy, and broke up his marriage, no one seemed to care about what happened to his wife, even though Callie was one of the more sympathetic characters on the show. When Addison considered having a relationship with her best friend’s ex-husband, she spent weeks agonizing and trying not to hurt her friend, and then went through anguish when just the idea hurt anyway. The idea had subtlety, at least in comparison with Grey’s.
And the series seemed to believe in lasting relationships, even when, like it that series, they were purely sex based at first. The strongest and most realistic relationship in all of Rhimes’ work was that Cooper (Paul Adelstein) and Charlotte (Kadee Strickland). Initially based solely in sex, in was allowed to grow and be nurtured over an extended period of time (Adelstein gave such a modest, manner performance that I was astonished to learn that he’d made his reputations plays cads. See Prison Break and, well, Scandal.) Developed over the length of the series, from affairs to marriage to having a family, it was genuinely one of the more well done relationships I’ve seen on TV.
Admittedly, there was more than the fair share of melodrama throughout the series. Brenneman’s character was abducted and brutally attacked in the second season finale, and Charlotte was raped in the middle of season 4. But for once, I didn’t object to the melodrama because there were actual consequences. They may not have been pleasant to watch, but dealing with repercussions is the kind of thing that happens in real life, something that Rhimes otherwise appears unable to acknowledge.
So the series was deeply flawed, and when the show started running against series I actually gave a damn about — — Parenthood in particular — — I chose the ones that were real quality. But the fact remains, I don’t think this series deserved nearly as much of the loathing that critics gave it. There are a lot of truly terrible shows out there. Private Practice was never one of them.