In 2006, Addison Montgomery (Kate Walsh) stalked into Seattle Grace, ruining everything for Grey's Anatomy's major romantic plot. Addison was meant to be a villain, but she was imminently un-hateable, and she became one of the show's most popular characters. Walsh even ended up with her own series, Private Practice. Flash forward more than 10 years, and Walsh appeared in Netflix's 13 Reasons Why, a supernova of a show that managed to break a record with its social media engagement. Then, in August, Walsh played kooky veterinarian Fiona Shively in the streaming giant's #realityhigh, a 90-minute parable about the perils of high school bullying.
Walsh's career has always been teen-adjacent. Grey's Anatomy is, to this day, ABC's highest-ranked show in the 18-49 demographic. And Private Practice, at its highest point, retained 100% of Grey's viewers. No one seems more aware of this than Netflix. So, is Kate Walsh, alias Addison Montgomery, the secret to great television that appeals to teens? Maybe. Or, she's an actress unafraid to make art for young adults. Coupled with Netflix's dedication to realistic portrayals of teens and Walsh's pure likability, we have a teen powerhouse — the Sarah Desson of actresses, if you will.
Throughout her career, Walsh has always been a pitch-perfect blend of cool, maternal, dorky, and hilarious. She's the mother we wish we had, and the friend we always invite first to brunch. (In other words, if and when you have a pregnancy scare, call Walsh.)
In #realityhigh, she is peak Walsh: As Dr. Fiona Shively, she is just cool enough to be on dating apps, but not cool enough to know that wearing a fedora is no longer sanctified by the Chill Police. She's just starting to embrace contouring, but she knows a little bit about boys. She knows that when Cameron Drake (Keith Powers) asks Dani (Nesta Cooper) to get food, it's no average encounter.
This isn't to say that Walsh doesn't have range, mind you — 13 Reasons Why is very different from #realityhigh, even though they preach similar morals. On 13RW, Walsh plays Olivia Baker, mother of Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford), who died by suicide. Due the show's timeline, she vacillates between harried parent and destroyed parent. For half the series, she's a stern but loving mom. For the other half, she's crippled with grief. Literally, too: Walsh goes from radiant to a shadow of a woman. These two storylines meet when Olivia Baker finds Hannah dead in the bathtub. There are two Reddit threads dedicated to her performance.
"She is undoubtedly the best actor on the show. My heart broke every time she was on the screen," one Redditor wrote. The thread agreed.
Another wrote, "How she keeps repeating she's okay is so real. I can imagine acting out scene where the character is in complete shocked has to be difficult to portray. She did it wonderfully." (Alas, she was not nominated for an Emmy. The Academy ignored the show this year.)
The same thread noted that Walsh has a penchant for motherhood. In 2012, Walsh played mom to Logan Lerman in Perks of Being a Wallflower, an adaptation of Stephen Chbosky's coming-of-age novel. She played Danny's (Graham Phillips) mother in Colin Jost's coming-of-age movie Staten Island Summer (2015). She also played a frenzied soccer mother in Kicking and Screaming (2005). Oh, and she played a desperate mother in 2010's Legion.
Walsh has even addressed her motherhood habit: "You know how there are some actors who are like, 'I don’t want to play a mom!'" Walsh told Buzzfeed this summer. "For me, maybe it’s because I’m not a mom, to be able to find that and play that and have that space in my life to be a mother, I really loved it."
Netflix doesn't release viewership data (nor was it available to comment for this story), but 13 Reasons Why broke records with its social engagement. It is, by far, one of the streamer's most popular shows. #Realityhigh isn't a show, and it's not based on a popular YA novel, so it's difficult to measure reactions, but if you peek at Twitter, users are in love.
Call it the Walsh effect. She brings an effortless positivity to every role, imbuing each character with a warmth, even if she's threatening to kill a baby (as she did in Legion). She's teenager kryptonite, and Netflix seems to have taken note.
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