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‘Grey’s’ spinoff shows familiar potential

“Anybody seen Addison?”

That’s what Mark “McSteamy” Sloan asked chief Richard Webber early in the special two-hour episode of “Grey’s Anatomy,” which served as both a regular episode and the pilot for a new spinoff series that will be led by Addison Montgomery.

“She’s gone. She took a leave of absence,” the chief said flatly, adding that the character first introduced in the final episode of the first season “didn’t give a reason.” McSteamy asked, “Did she tell you where she was going?”

“All she said was, she needed some time — to be happy and free, if I recall correctly,” the chief said, moving on.

That is how “Grey’s Anatomy” opened the door to get rid of one of its main characters: unconvincingly. The surprise was that despite this abrupt and thin explanation for both Addison’s disappearance and the parallel story, the new show actually worked.

To introduce “Grey’s Anatomy’s” audience to the new series, the show’s writers and producers decided to intertwine the two new shows, rather than send Addison off for her own hour-long adventure. What remained were two separate episodes that were fused together, with only occasional links between them.

The transitions between the two were sharp and abrupt, making both episodes seem longer than they actually were. And without establishing shots illustrating the shift in location from Seattle to Los Angeles, the two shows were simultaneously conflated and disconnected.

Only well into the story did the “Grey’s” half bother to offer a more substantive explanation for Addison’s absence, which apparently came as the result of a falling out with Alex and her continued detachment from her ex-lover. At one point McSteamy told Alex, “Whatever you didn’t do sent Addison running for the hills.”

Her excuse for running away and visiting her friends was different. “I want to have a baby,” Addison told Naomi, a friend from medical school who now runs the Oceanside Wellness Group with her ex-husband (Jackson, played by Taye Diggs) and a band of doctors with their own issues. But that was ultimately only an excuse; later, Naomi told Addison, “there is no fertility potential here.”

But there still was potential for the series, in part because “Private Practice” (the spin-off’s tentative name) isn’t entirely different from “Grey’s Anatomy.” It had the same moments of craziness and crisis; the same jaunty, light, happy, staccato music; the same locations, from stairways to elevators to hospital operating rooms; the same hook-ups and tragedies; and the same quirkiness that its parent demonstrates regularly.

The office that houses Oceanside appears to be more alive than Seattle Grace Hospital. Brighter colors fill the walls instead of flat grays, and the decor is more modern, mostly because they’re an office, not a hospital. In addition, the backdrop of Southern California offers more obviously warm exterior locations.

Yet the new series does not seem to have shifted much in tone, and since “Grey’s Anatomy” tends to combine (melo)drama with moments of comedy and tension, so did “Private Practice.”

Also like its parent, the new show also has a cast of strong actors, although unlike “Grey’s,” many aren’t starting the new series as relative unknowns. From Tim Daly to Amy Brenneman, “Alias”’ Merrin Dungey to “Prison Break’s” Paul Adelstein, they’re either show leads or character actors seeking refuge from other shows.

Even in their early moments together, they had strong chemistry, appearing to be likeable and engaging. None, however, have had the chance to grow into their characters and to explore their quirks and personalities. The characters that were the most developed, ironically enough, were the disposable, episode-specific ones, such as the surrogate mother — whose life Addison saved in an operating room, echoing “Grey’s Anatomy” — and the group of men who might have been the baby’s father.

Back in Seattle, Christina and Burke struggled over wedding plans; George, Izzie and Callie negotiated the awkwardness between them; and Meredith’s stepmother died unexpectedly. As it unfolded and came to life between these moments, “Private Practice” seemed at once desperate to differentiate itself and convince viewers that it is just like “Grey’s.”

Upon meeting Tim Daly’s character, Pete, in an elevator, Addison said, “Where I come from, elevators tend to be this kind of aphrodisiac, you know? People get on them and just get all horny. ... It’s a relief to be on a not-horny elevator.” Of course, instead of rejecting her old show’s conventions, Addison later made out with him in a stairwell, directly plagiarizing from “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Pilots that find life as the spawn of existing TV shows are strange creatures. They’re often episodes fans look back at and wonder why anyone thought certain choices lasted for even that one episode. If “Private Practice” gets picked up, cast members might be added or subtracted, sets may be rebuilt or reconfigured, and details could change. The final show may look substantially different than the one introduced in this two-hour episode.

Perhaps as an acknowledgment of that fact, characters on both shows regularly appeared to break down the fourth wall by speaking to each other and, indirectly, to viewers, reminding them to just ignore the awkwardness that this pilot and episode combination brought with it. “Now is not the time to give up on me, okay? That’s what I’m saying,” Meredith said at one point, practically begging viewers to stay tuned.

On her half of the show, Addison told another character who was questioning her, “Can we just let this go? I’ve been having some rough times lately.” In other words, don’t question how she got to Los Angeles; just go with it.

As the episode concluded, and Addison headed back to Seattle Grace (where she’ll wait to see if ABC picks up the new show), she again found herself in the elevator with Pete. He asked her, “Get what you came for?”

“I honestly don’t know,” she said. That truthful answer also offered insight into the new series. “Private Practice” doesn’t yet have what Addison left behind on “Grey’s Anatomy.” With time, though, it just might.

is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.