Sunday, December 6, 2009
Lady Doctors : Private Practice, Grey's Anatomy, and a possibly controversial stance
Okay I'm just gonna say it, I like Grey's Anatomy, but these days I love Private Practice. If you read this blog, you're probably over the fact that I love crappy tv and b-grade movies so lets not deal with the topic of actual quality control. I'm more interested in the development of character and plot lines with these two shows. I got kinda into Grey's Anatomy a few years ago and when Kate Walsh's character Addison came along I really wasn't feeling her. Yet, Addison is kinda a slow burn, and when I started finally watching her spin-off show Private Practice I found it fun and faster paced than Grey's Anatomy. Then, by the end of season two, and definitely now in season three I am completely absorbed in the plot lines and well the totally bitchin' characters that drive along the story line of Private Practice. I find the women to be awesome role models, and in a way that you rarely see on TV. Many reviews of the show thought otherwise but I think if you stuck through the beginning episodes you'll find that the female characters are realistically flawed and yet powerful and remarkably unapologetic in their powerful positions. Better still, the male characters of Private Practice are actually substantial and more often than not wonderful guys. I generally found the guys in Grey's Anatomy to just be walking boners with great hair (McSteamy) or maybe just someone capable of walking and having great hair (McDreamy). While the guys in Private Practice have some flaws they tend more often to be awesome dads and really reliable friends to their female co-workers.
Now I don't want to shit all over Gray's Anatomy, its totally one of the best doctor shows out there. Maybe I'm partial cause Zack Braff of Scrubs is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me or cause I was a little to young to jump on the ER train.....but Grey's Anatomy, set at Seattle Grace Hospital, has awesome characters, plot lines, and is just an all around well made show. Their actresses are famous for their Emmy's and the writers don't shy from giving them great material to work with. Sandra Oh's character Christina Yang, is probably my favorite as the over achiever and dispenser of brass and sass. Miranda Bailey, played by Chandra Wilson, deserves all the acclaim thrown her way. She's a stellar actress and her character is totally the hard ass and yet the one who opens the free clinic at Seattle Grace and manages to hold everyone together. However, I've had a rough time with the way her character was always the angry mother hen and yet never seemed to get the positions she deserved. I think they've managed to finally make her an attending physician in season 6 -despite the fact she seemed to be running it all from day one. Grey's Anatomy has done some other awesome stuff, I liked the early episodes when Izzie (Katherine Heigl) got sick of being harassed for her good looks and gave everyone a good look at, what under hospital fluorescent lights, seemed to be a pretty realistic female body, cellulite and all. There was also some interesting plot lines with the also awesome Dr. Callie Torres falling in love with another woman doctor. This story was kind of awesome in that the women seemed fairly realistic and weren't the youngest or skinniest characters on the show, so at first it didn't seem to be so much designed for male viewers. Unfortunately, the way McSteamy wouldn't stop sniffing around them like the boner he is, well it made me lose some respect for that whole story line.
I guess my big problem with Grey's is Meredith Grey, played by Ellen Pompeo. In many tv shows, you're supposed to identify with this character.... she's the universal character, the Angela Chase (My So Called Life) only she would never have the balls to dye her hair red like Angela. Meredith drinks to have the guts to have sex, she is known for having low ambition and low talent, she doesn't believe she can be loved, and when she tries to leave her still married boyfriend he gets angry and calls her a whore and she goes back to him cause well he has really good hair. While we'll get to the irrational in a minute, Meredith is the classic case of unconscious. Aside from the fore-mentioned "oh how did i wake up in this guys bed" attitude toward drinking and sex, she also deals with her larger issues of family and relationship problems by letting go of control and finding herself unconscious. The most obvious example of this is the ferryboat accident in season 3 when she finds herself falling overboard and then for some reason just lets go, in an incredibly passive nod at suicide. Of course Derek/McDreamy, the knight with shining hair, shows up and plucks her from the waters. She remains unconscious for a while at the hospital and when resuscitated is confronted by Derrick about her repeated unconsciousness attempts. To see the irrational side of my unconscious and irrational Grey's Anatomy theory we have only to look to Izzie Stevens (Katherine Heigl) who spends most of Season 5 being "visited" by her dead fiance. Her and the dead fiance ghost have a great sex life and he hangs out with her all the time, and eventually everyone begins to notice that she's crazy. This is sort of where I lost interest in Grey's. Izzie has some of her own unconscious moments when she develops cancer and eventually flatlines and spends a lot of time in that coma state Meredith is in....mostly in hopes of joining the dead fiance ghost in the afterworld. But don't worry, she pulls through, and then after some other hullaballoo is fired. While the women of Grey's Anatomy are complex and sometimes awesome characters its Derrick the Dreamy that plays the golden god, repeatedly saving the day in surgery and playing the pious moral character.
However, a long time ago, in a land far away. Derrick was married to Addison. Then Addison cheated on him with his best friend McSteamy. However, instead of ending up in a coma like the Grey's girls Addison gets her own spin off show. Private Practice is shot in a very different way from Grey's Anatomy. While Grey's is sort of the dreary indie movie look Private Practice is more like Clueless -sunny and fashionable. This might be the difference of their settings - Seattle versus Los Angeles. However, I think giving that gritty look to Grey's Anatomy can distract you from the fact that everyone is secretly having sex on the operating table when you're not looking. It makes me very nervous about going to the hospital. Private Practice is also similar to my other favorite spin off, Melrose Place. 90210 was cute but Melrose was where all the fun was. Its interesting that the only character to tie those shows together was Jake (Grant Show) who plays Addison's brother in Private Practice. Coincidence ? I like to think not.
Addison of Private Practice is not only a medical genetics fellow but a neonatal surgeon with board certifications in both Obstetrics/ Gynecology and Maternal and Fetal Medicine. Along with her friends Naomi and Sam (once married now divorced from each other) Addison opens up Pacific Wellcare Center. The practice also involves Pete(Tim Daly), the naturopathic doctor and licensed herbalist, Violet the shrink (the ever awesome Amy Brenneman), and Cooper (Paul Adelstein), the pediatrician. Since Private Practice is lead mainly by Addison and Naomi, the fertility specialist, the show deals with a whole lot of controversial issues surrounding reproductive health, abortion, stem cell research, designer babies, etc etc. I really appreciate the way the writers give fair play to both sides on most of these issues. While many feminists have taken issue with this I really liked that the whole practice could talk and disagree about issues like abortion and yet still remain friends and understanding of each other. Addison had an abortion when McSteamy knocked her up way back on Grey's Anatomy and she stands by the decision and supports choice and her best friend Naomi is a bit more conservative about the issue, which I find more understandable in the context of her being a fertility doctor who spends all day trying to get people pregnant. However, the show deals with the gray areas of that decision over and over again including topics like rape, women accidentally implanted with another's embryo, fetus's who develop tumors. Seeing specific cases makes it more understandable why reasonable discussion of the issue on both parts is important. Many feminists have been resistant to this aspect of Private Practice but I find it more true to the concept and practice of choice.
Another thing I love about Private Practice is that Naomi has risen out of the role of the Black Best Friend. Although she hasn't completely supplanted Addison as the main character, she has left Pacific Wellcare to head her own competitive practice that seems to be a bit more experimentally research based. Seeing a black female character that is so intelligent, classy, and powerful is rare on television and I'm glad that the creator of both Grey's and Private Practice, Shondra Rhimes, has finally gone there. Naomi remains very much in the story line since her practice is only one floor below Addison's.
While the show may be powered by the Amazonian figures of Addison and Naomi, the men of Private Practice are nothing to disregard. Taye Diggs, as Sam, .......well who couldn't watch Taye Diggs do anything for an hour a week. The man is aging very well. Also, his character Sam, a talented internist, is also a great Dad, a wonderful friend to Addison, and a supportive co-parent and friend to his ex-wife Naomi. My other favorite dude is Pete, who I love partially because he is a naturopath doctor and I'm into that shit. Yet, he also rides a motorcycle, remains mature while steaming up the screen, and he takes sole responsibility for his baby with Violet, after she faces an incredibly traumatizing event. Also sometimes off screen he wears big glasses and talks politics and I'm into that too. Although, I'm not totally into Dell, I like that he's a young midwife in training as well as a great single Dad. Dell represents all the great young guys out there that just need Addison and Naomi to knock a little sense into them. Lastly, is Cooper, the man boy of the bunch who seems to get away with acting like a 12 year old because he's cuddly and is a great pediatrician. He's admittedly the most faulty character, yet I still think he's awesome due to his wonderful friendship with Violet who he takes care of all through her pregnancy, even going to Lamaze classes. He also dates the new doctor Charlotte King who plays the southern belle with a heart of ice. Well its not really ice she's just missing some normal people skills. However I enjoy his ability to rise above his 12 year shit and date a woman who is sexual, powerful, and in control, or as she puts it "too much woman for him".
This past season Amy Brenneman, formerly of Judging Amy, has been doing an amazing job playing Violet. She deserves all sorts of Emmys. Last season's finale found her pregnant and attacked by a psychotic patient intent on taking her baby. If anyone has seen the french film Inside, you might have an idea what I mean. I think this episode, and maybe one Mad Men episode, were the only times I literally had to pause the show (I watch it on the internet), and walk around the house twice to chill out. It was incredibly frightening after recent news reports of real life similar situations. I had no idea how they would deal with the aftermath the next season, yet I've not been disappointed. The show has always been good at dealing with parenthood and the times when it may not come naturally to a woman, and it makes sense in Violet's case. Also, the trial of the psychotic patient was helpful in defining the difference between mental health problems and the old fashioned concept of female hysteria.
So I guess this post has turned into a grand opus on something very few people care about and even fewer people are going to agree with me on. That's fine, I'm sure there are a million different ways to look at these show. However I would like to point out that both Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors. In addition, creator of both shows Shondra Rhimes is truly a force to be reckoned with - she's had a couple busts such as ummm.... Crossroads, yet she's also kicked ass with The Princess Diaries and Introducing Dorothy Dandridge. I think we have a lot to look forward to from her in the future.