I’ll admit that “Private Practice” (along with its companion piece “Grey’s Anatomy”) is one of my guilty pleasures. A prime time sudser about narcissistic doctors who Care Too Much and should all be brought up on malpractice charges in every episode, the storylines frequently veer into too crazy/ridiculous/annoying to be believed territory (a crazy patient splits open Violet and steals her unborn baby! Charlotte discovers her rapist is a patient at her hospital!). But with a committed cast and characters who, when not saving the world, are busily bedding one another, it’s just good, soapy fun. But last night the show tested my patience, and for once the usual soap opera tropes aren’t working for me.
In the promos for the show, all signs pointed to Big Dead Pete (Tim Daly). After all, he suffered a heart attack in last season’s finale, prone and alone in his house with the exception of little Lucas. I would have thought, given his parents’ tendency to meet with misfortune, Lucas would have been trained to dial 911 before he learned how to use a spoon, but guess not. Anyway, in the promos we see Sam (Taye Diggs) somberly calling for time of death. Well, who else is he going to declare dead?
It turns out, some guy we don’t know or don’t care about! Psyche! Yes, Sam was trying desperately to help Charlotte (KaDee Strickland) revive a patient, and he did seem truly distraught that this guy he’s never seen before was going up to the big hospital in the sky. But, as we know, he’s a doctor who Cares Too Much. Every death makes tears well up in his eyes, even as he considers texting something smutty to Addison (Kate Walsh). As much as I may enjoy these doctors in a fictional arena, I’d run screaming from the hospital if I found a real doctor who behaved like these guys do.
Now, I will admit, killing off Pete seemed not only unlikely, but a mistake for the show. Pete and Violet (Amy Brenneman)’s relationship problems are still unfolding, and Pete’s troubled background hasn’t been deeply mined or emotionally resolved. While Violet seems to be stuck in the same, tired fight-or-flight pattern in dealing with her troubles, Pete was someone who was mostly unwilling to put up with her games (and while Cooper [Paul Adelstein] always stomps his feet and cries foul, most of the time he crumbles into a warm, mushy mound of forgiveness where Violet is concerned). Just a thought — if we have to kill off a character, can I recommend Violet?
But when Pete makes a remarkable recovery, allowing him to mutter mushy love stuff to Violet as she stares at him gooey-eyed, it’s not only an opportunity lost for both actor and show (what actor doesn’t want the chance to contend with stroke-induced paralysis or chronic pain? It’s Emmy catnip!) but, again, a test of my patience. It reminds me of when Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) drowned for 20 minutes on “Grey’s Anatomy” — and was quickly resuscitated, none the worse for wear. Yes, these are prime time soaps, so lightly grounded in reality they could float away at any minute, but do these characters have to be superhuman as well? Not only are we faked out in the promo and in the early part of the show, the whole season-ending drama is quickly swept under the carpet to make room for new plot twists. Given that the strength of “Private Practice” lies in the solid cast and the characters they play, for the show to play fast and loose with character development is to risk bringing down a pretty shaky house of cards.
So, shame on “Private Practice” for not only faking me out, but wrapping up a major storyline in a happy, one episode bow. Of course, I’ll keep watching (the addition of Benjamin Bratt to the show has piqued my interest, as a Sam-Addison-Jake triangle is clearly in the making), so I can’t waggle too much of a finger at “Private Practice.” But I can’t say another eye-roller like this one won’t be too many.