Since 2007, Private Practice has quietly been a televisual success, easy to overlook except for the crucial fact that it gets tons of viewers. It’s never been quite the smash hit that its parent show Grey’s Anatomy has been, but it’s done well for itself, especially when the two shows were paired on Thursday nights on ABC. Creator Shonda Rhimes distinguished herself largely with Grey’s Anatomy, by all accounts a groundbreaking smash hit, even if it has resorted to fast-paced melodrama to keep things interesting. But Rhimes has to be lauded as well for creating two substantial shows since then, shows that have managed to stand up on their own feet and gain their own followings.
Private Practice always had the weakest premise, of course, of the three. Rhimes needed to write Kate Walsh’s popular character Addison off of her incredibly successful show, so she decided to put her in a spin-off. Walsh is a kind of California-style mature-women heroine anyway (target audience: moms!), so Private Practice was born, the postscript to Addison Montgomery-Shepherd’s ignominious run at Seattle Grace. Unlike Grey’s, Private Practice was essentially escapist wish fulfillment from the start, eschewing the richly detailed professional environment of its parent show (and later, Scandal) for a slick, improbably well-appointed office with a very beautiful cast and the soft, fluffy cushion of upper-upper-middle-class wealth. The show still managed to run for six seasons, but it’s no surprise that this is the first of Rhimes’ shows to end. That means this is also the first show in which we the audience get to see how Shonda Rhimes can stick her landing—because the end of a show, for better or for worse, is what stays with us.
I’m surprised—but should not have been, given Rhimes’ proven skill—to find that Private Practice ends remarkably well, with a flourish of its own melodramatic style. The finale crams in two weddings, a pregnancy, a terminal diagnosis, and a new journey (that might be a metaphor for the show!) and still leaves time for pretty adorable back-and-forth banter between the show’s many established relationships.
To be fair, it might be a little too late for this ending, which it seems Rhimes has been keeping in her back pocket the whole time. Now that there’s nothing to lose, Rhimes throws her star-crossed romantic leads from the pilot at each other—divorced (from each other, mind you) ex-lovers Sam and Naomi. They have sex at Addison and Jake’s wedding (yeah, that happens) and Sam knocks Naomi up and it’s a big secret for a while but then Addison convinces Sam that he’s been in love with Naomi for the last several years (even when he was interested in Addison for a lot of it? even when he said he didn’t want kids!!!), so they wind up getting married by the end of the episode! Isn’t that totally sweet?? (I’m not even kidding. I thought it was kind of adorable. I recognize that maybe my brain is a little broken, but Taye Diggs is really, really hard to say no to.)
The other major relationships are given their due moments of sweet, poignant, petering out—we see Charlotte and Cooper raising their triplets and discussing getting a nanny; Sheldon and his wife make their peace with her illness; Jake finally accepts his daughter’s relationship; and Violet says goodbye to Holly, a patient who’s been seeing her for almost six years. Six years, you say? How… coincidental. Is Holly afraid of leaving Violet to go off and pursue the next chapter of her life? Of course she is. Because Violet has meant so much to her—has been like a family to her. Are we the audience supposed to be Holly, or is Holly supposed to be Shonda Rhimes, setting sail on an another adventure? I have no idea, but that’s okay, because it’s a metaphor, so it can mean anything.
Private Practice ends in a way that honors the characters it started out with. It’s not thrilling, it’s not new, and it doesn’t bring everything together perfectly, but it does provide some closure for each of the characters. Rhimes’ success stems at least in part from her understanding of how so many of us watch television—by dropping in on the lives of fictional characters and irrationally loving them, week-by-week, over the years. Her strongest moments, even in this finale, are the one-on-one encounters between characters. They still retain the ability to bounce off of each other and react to each other authentically, even through, well, rape and triplets and sudden heart attacks. That interpersonal rapport is the most important aspect of the show, and it remains intact through this episode. If you cared about this show, I imagine you will be very happy with this finale.
The very last moment is Violet coming into the break room with the manuscript for her new book in a neat cardboard box (improbable, but okay). Her friends and coworkers ask what it’s about, and she says, “Joy.” And a bunch of other stuff, like her life, and her work, and their mutual relationships. Oh, so what’s the title, Violet? “Well, I’m thinking of naming it…” (the entire audience cringes) “…Private Practice.” The assembled cast let that sink in, and then somebody (I didn’t quite catch who) says: “What does that mean?” And the conversation devolves into bickering over whether or not the title is any good. “I like it!” “I don’t. It could be about… anything.” “Like a legal practice.” “Or a brothel.” Oh, the characters, they’re so cute! They’re arguing over the title of the show they are in. It’s the perfect final moment for this show. Sure, it’s self-indulgent and too saccharine—but then again, so was Private Practice.
- “My boobs are gonna explode. I’m gonna go pump.”
- “And…I am 72 percent certain I did the right thing in telling you.”
- I didn’t love the episode’s beginning and end—Addison narrating into the camera, making a home video about marriage. But I thought she did a good job summing up the whole point of the show, about breaking down the notion of the perfect life with the fairy-tale happy ending. Of course, maybe it would be better if the previous six seasons had been more clearly about that, but you know, whatever.
- Another finale with a double wedding! WEDDINGS EVERYWHERE!
- And this is just to say, dude, Taye Diggs. Duuuuuude.