June 26, 2011

THE SKED CABLE REVIEW: USA’s “Necessary Roughness”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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Premieres Wednesday 10PM on USA:  Change the Channel
NECESSARY ROUGHNESS departs from the USA Network formula in several ways:  our heroine Dani Santino (Callie Thorne) is the mother of teenagers, she doesn’t work undercover or take on wacky identities, she has no extraordinary abilities other than empathy, and her wise-cracking best friend isn’t around enough to count as a sidekick (in the pilot, she’s played by Amanda Detmer, who’s now a regular on ABC’s fall sitcom Man Up).  While it’s nice to see the network stretching its usual rules of engagement, the result sadly doesn’t have much bounce.

Dani is a psycho- and hypno-therapist; 17 years ago, she had the opportunity to continue her education and start a serious psychiatric practice, but she became pregnant and downscaled professionally to raise her family.  She now sees patients in her home, helping them to stop smoking, lose weight and the like.  When she finds out her husband (Craig Bierko) has been cheating on her, she files for what turns into an ugly divorce, and then she happens onto the chance to become team therapist to pro football’s NY Hawks.  (The show, although set in New York, is shot in Atlanta, and it’s not one of the more convincing city-for-city substitutions.)  The team has plenty of players who could use her help, because their personal problems are affecting their game, as well as a love interest for Dani (trainer Marc Blucas) and an enigmatic team “fixer” (Scott Cohen).  
The premise of a shrink to professional athletes is a promising and topical one, and the Necessary Roughness pilot, written by the team of Liz Kruger and Craig Shapiro, quickly trots out the tropes you’d expect:  her first patient, TK King (Mehcad Brooks), is jewelry-laden and arrogant, with anger management problems; he hangs out in strip clubs with his posse while getting into drunken fights.  The show takes all this more seriously than you’d expect from an USA show (even the hypnotism is played straight), and Dani’s cure for TK turns out to be simplistic and sentimental.  Meanwhile, she has standard-issue problem kids (Hannah Marks and Patrick Johnson), and a mother (Concetta Tomei) who’s almost a clone of Sharon Gless in Burn Notice
Although Thorne is more than capable of sharp humor (for seasons, she’s been craziness itself as Denis Leary’s mistress on Rescue Me), the script for Necessary Roughness‘s script has very little snap.  The pilot plods through Dani’s family problems and the wait for TK to listen, really listen, to what she’s saying so he can start catching passes again.  (The 75-minute length of the pilot doesn’t help.)  The only intriguing character is Cohen’s fixer, mostly because he’s pretty much left in the shadows. 
Necessary Roughness has a great lead-in from USA’s hit Royal Pains, so there’s little doubt it’ll get sampled in its premiere, and in Thorne it has a star who’s likable enough to hold onto an audience–if the writers can provide her with the material.  Right now, Dani isn’t very distinctive, and the problems she’s solving feel banal.  USA may have sacrificed its trademark tone, but not to attempt something original–it’s turned itself temporarily into Lifetime.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."