'Grey's Anatomy' Spin-Off Episode Brings In Big Viewers

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An estimated 21 million people watched Thursday night, according to preliminary ratings — well above the season average of 19.1 million. ABC must decide by May 15, when it unveils its fall schedule, whether the as-yet-unnamed spin-off will be on the air.

From the start, a major “Grey’s” strength has been its capacity for blending realistic drama and sitcom silliness. Death and dating coexist quite comfortably, perhaps because even the goofiest moments take place amid the murky dampness of Seattle.

But the new show, flooded with happy L.A. sunshine, attempts a similar feat with more awkward results.

It’s formed from the same ingredients as its parent — a handful of sexy but emotionally damaged doctors stumble through their personal lives while gaining inspiration from their patients. But it came off as a predictable workplace comedy with a few incongruous moments of blood and disease.

(Spoiler alert: Stop reading now if you’re saving the episode for later viewing.)

Addison arrives in L.A. in a red convertible looking for a fresh start. “Let’s never ‘Mc’ anything,” she tells old friend Naomi (Merrin Dungey), whose medical practice just happens to need a new obstetrician. Addison asked to get artificially inseminated, but tests showed she’s infertile.

Addison swears she’s only visiting, even after kissing a cute alternative medicine practitioner with commitment issues (Tim Daly), and reconnecting with Naomi’s ex-husband and business partner (Taye Diggs).

The most compelling character appears to be Violet (Amy Brenneman), an unhappy psychologist. But as strong as her scenes were, the show felt more like a rip-off than a spin-off: Violet seems on the verge of dating Cooper (Paul Adelstein), her mildly dorky male best friend — shades of George and Izzie.

The “Grey’s” crew were strangers during their early episodes, but this bunch are already knee-deep in ancient personal history. Last night’s audience had an awful lot of back-story to absorb while still following the goings-on in Seattle.

Back there, things were a bit warmer between Derek and Meredith, at least at first: “I want to be better at everything and I want to let you in,” she said of her post-drowning mind-set. Meredith also bonded a bit with her father. But her stepmother’s sudden death left him reeling. He actually slapped Meredith across the face when she broke the news.

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George is serious about transferring to Mercy West to protect his marriage. “I’m not a cheater,” he told Izzie, though several scenes later he kissed her again. Izzie’s misery over the thought of George leaving was made worse by being forced to shop for bridesmaid dresses with Callie for Cristina’s wedding. Cristina endured planning a traditional wedding for Burke’s sake. But her disinterest in wedding planning left Burke’s mother (Diahann Carroll) — and even Burke himself — wondering if the marriage will work.

When brain surgery didn’t jog Jane Doe’s memory (but did uncover the fact that she speaks several languages), Alex was again her biggest supporter. He took her outside to cheer her up and encouraged her to think about the future.

McSteamy admitted to Derek that Addison cheated on him, which melted some of the frost between them.

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