Exactly no one was surprised on Friday when Shonda Rhimes announced that “Private Practice” would be riding off into the syndication sunset after episode 613. Fading ratings were already a tip-off (the debut episode raked in 14 million, while these days the show rarely cracks the 6 million mark), but the nail in the coffin was likely delivered when the star of the show, Kate Walsh (Addison), announced she was walking after 13 episodes. Rhimes claimed that making the decision came after some debate, but I can’t imagine why.
I’ve long had a soft spot for the show’s ridiculously frisky collection of doctors and therapists, but by this season it was getting awfully hard to suspend my disbelief. Why one medical group had three therapists on staff didn’t make a lot of sense (I guess the logic is that people are really, really crazy in Santa Monica), but given that bad things always seemed to happen to anyone who walked into the office whether they were an employee or a patient, maybe it was for the best. Insurance carriers be damned.
In not-quite six seasons, a whole lot went horribly wrong, and that’s just revealed in examining the doctors. Violet (Amy Brenneman) had her baby cut out of her stomach by a crazy patient. Drug addict/neurosurgeon Amelia fell off the wagon, then got engaged to another addict who died shortly before she gave birth to his baby, who also died. Charlotte (KaDee Strickland) was raped and left for dead. Addison’s mom committed suicide after her lesbian lover died. And, of course, all of this happened while everyone was sleeping with everyone else. It’s amazing anyone had time to actually practice medicine. I’m surprised they didn’t have a sign that read OFFICE CLOSED FOR NAVEL GAZING AND PTSD COUNSELING they could hang up every half hour or so.
Okay, I’m being a little rough on the show, which could deeply engage and even jerk tears out of the unlikeliest of storylines. But what really made “Private Practice” a guilty pleasure was a talented cast of pros who could make even the goofiest of plot twists somehow ring true. Tim Daly, Audra McDonald, Brian Benben, Taye Diggs, Benjamin Bratt — yes, their characters were all kinds of nuts, but these actors didn’t waver in their commitment to them. But I think at this point it’s all those still on the show can do not to roll their eyes at the camera and wink at the audience. Given the insular world of a boutique medical group (one, yes, attached to a hospital), bringing in new blood with the frequency needed to keep the show fresh never made much sense and, as a result, didn’t happen as often as it needed to.
Of course, there’s a more practical reason to say good-bye to “Private Practice.” Rhimes has other shows to worry about. While “Scandal” seems dedicated to delivering politically-focused dialogue at “West Wing” speed, that doesn’t make it anywhere near as smart or as good. Also on ABC, “Grey’s Anatomy” is showing its age, though the plane crash reboot of this season promises some needed detours.
Luckily, Rhimes’ soapy universes aren’t the only games in town — at least for now. I’ve been enjoying “Nashville,” which I wasn’t expecting — but it seems audiences tuned in once, didn’t see Taylor Swift, and tuned out again, as ratings fell 29 percent between the debut and the second episode.
“Revenge” isn’t going anywhere soon, but I’m leery of how the plot is veering away from Emily’s devious plan to bring down her neighbors and is insteady digging into a conspiracy plot involving The Initiative, which better start making sense soon or go away quickly, as it seems like an ungainly attempt to turn the show into a C-grade spy thriller. So far this season plot twists have been thrown at the wall so frantically the splattering sound has drowned out the qualities that made the show fun in the first place.
Over on NBC, “Parenthood” continues to be one of those shows that’s well-loved despite tiny ratings– and is likely staving off cancelation thanks to being on NBC. For those with basic cable, there’s the new “Dallas,” or for those who prefer screaming with their drama, there’s always some “Real Housewives” franchise on the air.
So, “Private Practice” leaves us, but we are not going to be lonely. There’s still plenty of soapy goodness out there, though the quality is pretty much all over the place. But hey, that’s about what we had with “Private Practice,” anyway.