Now that "Grey's Anatomy" and its spinoff "Private Practice" have clocked in with their season premiere and first official episode, respectively, it's time to check their vital signs.
Yes, it's way too early to make any major pronouncements based on one episode, but since I had "Grey's Anatomy" on my "Hanging on by a Thread" list (bio) and "Private Practice" on my thumbs-down roster, let's consider this a preliminary diagnosis, awaiting further tests and close monitoring.
"Private Practice" was up first, on Wednesday night, and by my estimation may actually have been worse than the backdoor pilot episode in May that sent Kate Walsh's Dr. Addison Montgomery headed out the doors of Seattle Grace Hospital for the sunnier climes of Southern California.
I cringed at least three times during Wednesday's bow, including the sight of Amy Brenneman on her hands and knees in the store with the crazy counting lady and Taye Diggs and his ex playing out their separation issues over a dead sperm donor.
Worst of all was the realization in the final 20 minutes that the show -- which is ostensibly centered on a top-notch neo-natal surgeon -- will never afford Addison the chance to do what she does best unless circumstances so convoluted as to be phenomenal are called into play. Dr. Montgomery is a surgeon and there's no sterile room in the clinic she's now a partner in? Where does that leave the show's storyline prospects -- emergency procedures that catch everyone off guard week after week, or frequent transfers to a real hospital with the show's midwife trainee in tow ? Did no one over in producer Shonda Rhimes' camp ever stop to think that having six doctors in a joint practice that don't do anything really medical might not be a sustainable dramatic premise?
Those cringeworthy moments don't even touch on the godawful feelgood crackpot vibe that the entire office exudes. Tim Daly's the holisitic healer, but between Cooper, Violet and Sam all spouting New Age nonsense and pseudo-medical gobbledygook, and the surfer-midwife waiting to catch his big break, the whole bunch come across largely as kooks, not doctors.
The whole debut episode felt forced and ridiculous. Kate Walsh barely got two moments to do anything worthwhile -- and I don't think they can have her dancing naked every week.
How about the rest of you? Do you think this show may already be headed for life-support?
By contrast, "Grey's Anatomy" returned Thursday night looking decidedly healthier, given all the scars it incurred at the end of last season and over the summer break. It's not out of the woods yet, but there were plenty of signs that the purge of last season's baggage (both in terms of onscreen relationships and behind-the-scenes turmoil) may put the show back on track.
With George repeating his first-year internship, it's almost as if Rhimes and her writers acknowleded the need for a reset and are cluing viewers in that they plan to return to the sense of wide-eyed eagerness that defined the show's first season.
Likewise, the arrival of Chyler Leigh as Meredith's half-sister Lexie Grey brought a suggestion of youthful optimism that's been sorely lacking since Meredith herself went into somber mode halfway through last season.
Sure, there were clunky moments: Izzy's ministrations to an ailing deer, Meredith's "alone" talk with a patient and, most awkwardly, the hamhanded bag of "change" metaphor. But the closing five minutes definitely brought the show's core characters back to firmer ground and hinted at brighter prospects for the season.
This patient might pull through after all.
-- Brian Cochrane