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The fourth season of Private Practice lays out its themes in the first episode, as all the main characters stand over the graves of characters who died in season three: new beginnings and second chances oh, and sex--lots and lots of sex. Violet Amy Brenneman and Pete Tim Daly announce their impending marriage, which startles Cooper Paul Adelstein and Charlotte KaDee Strickland, who are engaged but have yet to set a date. Addison Kate Walsh has started a relationship with Sam Taye Diggs but is keeping it under wraps lest it damage her friendship with Naomi Audra McDonald. And psychiatrist Sheldon Brian Benben has become a series regular, along with neurosurgeon Amelia Caterina Scorsone--a very good move on the part of the show's producers. Everyone's a little older but still preposterously good-looking. Hot-button topics include gender-reassignment surgery, autism, fertility issues, closeted gay husbands, and much, much more--as ever, Private Practice crams as many dramatic story lines into every episode as possible.
But season four takes a turn away from melodrama with a multi-episode arc in which a major character is sexually assaulted. This event is treated with considerable complexity and nuance, and gives the actress in question a great opportunity to deepen her character, an opportunity she seizes with compelling skill. The repercussions play out through the season, along with a few other story lines Addison's imperious mother demands that Addison treat her lover's advanced cancer; Violet writes a book revealing her own experience of assault; and Pete wrestles with his brother and mother returning to ask a legally questionable favor. Private Practice continues to meld medical soap opera with a gloss on thorny social issues, but this season feels more mature, and as a result, more satisfying. --Bret Fetzer