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TV Series Review

ABC wants you to think that its freshman drama Private Practice is all about good-looking, frisky MDs steaming up an L.A. clinic. The Grey's Anatomy spin-off is really about social reengineering and challenging traditional morality.

This show's connection to Grey's Anatomy is twofold. First, its creator, Shonda Rhimes, won a Golden Globe last year for Anatomy. Also, Dr. Addison Forbes Montgomery (actress Kate Walsh) bridges the two series as a physician with lots of, shall we say, baggage. Addison has left Seattle Grace Hospital and retreated to L.A. to recover from dented relationships and a destroyed marriage. She decided to join recently divorced med school pals Naomi and Sam Bennett in a private-practice venture conceived to provide patients with whole-body care. Her surgical and gynecological skills are complemented by Naomi's fertility specialty and Sam's self-help bent. They're joined by a pediatrician, a psychiatrist and a master of alternative medicine.

Trading Anatomy's quirky, mildly comedic style for über-serious drama may not win a wider swath of fans, but it gives more weight to the social issues Rhimes chooses to champion. Which brings us back to the show's morality. An early episode, for example, applauded a 10-year-old boy for asking his male crush out on a date. After being beaten up and experiencing a crisis of confidence, the confused child is told by his pediatrician, "I wish I was you. … You're a lot braver than I am. … You are young—you will have a lot of chances to fall in love with someone who is really into you big time."

Similarly destructive is the ambivalence toward marriage by psychiatrist Dr. Violet Turner (Judging Amy's Amy Brenneman). She actually reprimands a patient for choosing to stick it out with his wife and abandoning all of the "progress" he has made over years of therapy.

Mixed throughout are steamy sex scenes, partial nudity and frank discussions of anatomical functions. Turner is especially vocal in her support of women giving in to masturbatory fantasies, as well as recreational sex between strangers. "It's empowering for women, actually, casual sex," she said. "It can be, as long as the boundaries are clear. Whatever helps you scratch the itch is fine."

What does disgust Dr. Turner? A man's proclivity to insert shoes into his body cavities. Apparently everyone (including network TV producers) draws the line somewhere. That line just keeps moving, due in large part to shows like this one.

"Ultimately, asking if Private Practice is good is like asking if a Twinkie is good," wrote Salon's Heather Havrilesky. "The answer is 'No' and 'Of course!' and, also, 'Give me another one.'" Which is why this melodramatic show has the power to influence a lot of people hungry for multiple helpings of sinfully rich moral upside-down cake.

Episodes Reviewed: Oct. 10, 17, 24, 31, Nov. 14, 21, 2007

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Steven Isaac

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