When the Lakers won the NBA championship last year, famously unstable forward Ron Artest (or The Artist Soon To Be Known As Metta World Peace) made headlines when, in a post-game interview, he thanked his psychiatrist, who “really helped me relax a lot.” It was a moment at once strange and touching – certainly, anyone who had tracked Artest’s career would have thought therapy could do him some good – and also one that seemed certain to inspire a few movies or TV shows.
USA’s new drama “Necessary Roughness” (which premieres tomorrow night at 10) isn’t technically based on Artest’s story – it’s inspired by the work of Dr. Donna Dannenfelser, a therapist who has worked with the New York Jets – but it suggests that the formula of jock + shrink isn’t as easy as it might have looked.
Callie Thorne plays Dr. Dani Santino, a Long Island hypno-therapist – a very TV-friendly specialty, since, as Dani explains, “You don’t need years of therapy to see results” – who, in one of those professional ironies TV dramas love, can fix other people’s lives even as her own is falling apart. She kicks her husband (Craig Bierko) out for cheating on her, her mother (Concetta Tomei) has a gambling problem, and her teenage daughter Lindsay (Hannah Marks) seems destined to end up in jail and/or some other kind of locked facility.
Then one night, Dr. Dani has a one-night stand with Matthew (Marc Blucas), the handsome trainer for the New York Hawks, the local pro football team in this fictional universe. And when she happens to mention her specialty to Matthew, he realizes she might be just the person to fix the team’s biggest problem: the stone hands and erratic behavior of star wide receiver Terrence “TK” King (Mehcad Brooks). The team has a shady fixer named Nico (Scott Cohen) who can make most of the legal trouble TK gets into disappear, but as he tells Dani, “I can fix a lot of things, but I can’t fix people. That’s your job.”
Unfortunately, “Necessary Roughness” isn’t particularly effective at showing Dani doing her job. She rattles off her resume to the team’s skeptical head coach (Gregory Alan Williams) and is constantly talking about the quick results she gets, but we never actually see her be an effective therapist – hypno or otherwise – with TK, or really with anyone else. (She does work with one patient who’s addicted to carbs, but she doesn’t get very far with her and has to duck out to do the more lucrative football job.) When she makes a few breakthroughs with TK late in the extra-long pilot episode, it doesn’t feel especially earned – or, at least, it doesn’t feel like they were achieved through her doing the things she boasts about to the coach. Mainly, she just hangs around TK until the point in the script where he has to confess his problem to somebody, and she’s the one who’s there.
And the thing is, therapy – even the quick-fix kind that Dani promises – is a bit too dark and cerebral to fit the sunny, simple USA brand. TK seems to have some deep emotional scars, and Dani’s daughter is in a very, very bad place psychologically, but a show that took those problems really seriously wouldn’t feel the least bit appropriate as a companion show to “Royal Pains.” So the series takes a superficial, ultimately unsatisfying view of what’s bothering everybody. It’s not a comedy – not going for the sporting equivalent of “Analyze This” – but it seems willing/able to go only so serious and not a step beyond that, and then what’s the point?
Callie Thorne has spent a long time stuck with one of the most unplayable roles in TV history as Tommy Gavin’s shrill, clingy, often insane sometime-girlfriend Sheila on “Rescue Me.” On the rare occasions when that show’s writers have let Sheila seem the least bit stable, Thorne has been terrific, and she’s done a lot of strong guest work over the last few years (including a bunch of appearances on USA show that no doubt made her seem ripe to get her own series).
She’s a likable, charming actress, surrounded by a bunch of familiar, appealing performers (Cohen in particular is someone I’ve liked a long time, even if the business hasn’t known quite what to do with him), and I think there’s potential in this idea. But the execution and/or the network aren’t right for the idea.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org