Do career women in their early 40s usually dance around naked like hormonal teenyboppers? It seems so in the new “Grey’s Anatomy” spin-off “Private Practice,” in which star Kate Walsh boogies in the buff at the beginning and end of the pilot episode. Fortunately, Walsh has the body of a 20-year-old and the charisma of a TV veteran to pull off such a stunt in her first leading role.

Brian Merlos
Out of the scrubs and into the … scrubs. (Courtesy of ABC)

“Private Practice” follows Walsh’s character, neonatal surgeon Dr. Addison Forbes Montgomery, as she makes the transition from Seattle Grace hospital in “Grey’s” to privately owned Oceanside Wellness Center in Los Angeles. The show nearly breaks clean from its predecessor in terms of plot, deserting many of Walsh’s old storylines in exchange for a fresh start.

But while “Private Practice” abandons the McDreamy plot arcs, it still stays true to the to the “Grey’s” formula. Under the helm of that show’s writer, Shonda Rhimes, the show has the same style as its predecessor as witty banter and workplace relationships dovetail with high-octane medical drama. That made “Grey’s” a success, and it’s mostly profitable – and at times powerful – in “Private Practice.”

The show is at its best when it focuses on the professional lives of its characters. Supposedly skilled physicians in the prime of their career, the characters are best when they deal with their various patients. One sub-plotline in the pilot episode, following the mental breakdown of a bereaved mother in a department store, is tear-jerking television at its finest.

Where “Private Practice” falls apart is when it deals with the outrageous personal lives of its ensemble cast. Much of the overzealous drama and sexual escapades seem out of place for a show whose actors are a full age bracket older than the “Grey’s” interns. In one scene we’re forced to watch a middle-aged man get tied to his bed and call his lover “Mama,” only to hear him rehash it later with a coworker.

Some of the dialogue also strains to strike the pithy tone it obviously seeks, making certain scenes clunky and contrived. Throughout the pilot episode, Walsh repeatedly retorts to her coworkers to stop “Addisoning” her when they repeat her name, all in a transparent attempt by the writers to create repeatable catchphrases like “McSteamy.”

Fortunately, Walsh compensates for the awkward dialogue and age-inappropriate behavior. She’s extremely likeable in her role as the brash but relatable Addison, providing the necessary anchor to a spin-off that has only one major character carrying over. As opposed to the stoic moodiness of Dr. Meredith Grey, Walsh is energetic and emotionally uneven, ultimately creating a far more appealing central character.

Surrounding Walsh is a diverse cast of former TV stars whose neurotic characters complement each other nicely. Amy Brenneman (“Judging Amy”) almost steals the show as psychologist Violet Turner, whose messy post-divorce life is juxtaposed with her dedication to her patients. Brenneman’s pedigree is clear as she effortlessly ties together Turner’s convoluted life into a cohesive character. Filling out the talented cast of doctors are Taye Diggs (“Day Break”), Paul Adelstein (“Prison Break”) and Audra McDonald (“Kidnapped”).

With Walsh and her co-stars at the forefront, this spin-off has a real chance of emerging from the shadows of its predecessor to become a respected stand-alone series. But this is dependent on the writers not forcing the characters to imitate the social conventions of the 20-something “Grey’s” interns, which it doesn’t yet seem content to do.

Rating: 2 and one half out of five

Private Practice

Wednesdays at 9 p.m.

ABC

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