February 21, 2013



Professional sports are so central to American culture, and so particularly critical to the television business, that it’s surprising the area had been largely ignored as the locale of a series until USA’s NECESSARY ROUGHNESS debuted.  Of course, since Roughness is a USA show, it’s mostly been content with superficial light drama, without any real interest in its setting except to furnish colorful patients for its heroine, therapist Dani Santino (Callie Thorne).  In the final stretch of its second season, though, the show explored the story of a fictional first NFL player to come out of the closet, and showed surprising patience and finesse, introducing quarterback Rex Evans (Travis Smith) as a background character to series regular Terrence King (Mehcad Brooks) and his usual travails with substance abuse and teammates, and only gradually segueing to Rex’s own issue.  It all played out in tonight’s season finale (written by series creators Craig Shapiro and Liz Kruger, and directed by Kevin Dowling), and while no one will ever accuse Necessary Roughness of subtlety (after coming out to his teammates at halftime of a losing game, Rex won in the closing seconds via an impossible touchdown pass to TK), the show didn’t embarrass itself either.  It suggests the series is capable of drama with more substance–if it chooses to go that way.

Apart from that story arc, Roughness mostly offered more of the same this season, and sometimes worse.  The show had the initially good idea of replacing crazy–and now deceased–New York Hawks owner Marshall Pittman (Evan Handler) with his wild card irresponsible daughter Juliette (Danielle Panabaker), all the more interesting because team fixer Nico (Scott Cohen) was her surrogate father while growing up and also her mother’s lover.  Juliette could have been a strong continuing character, both with respect to the team and with Dani and Nico, but the show badly bungled that storyline, having Nico quickly betray Juliette for the good of the team and bouncing her from the action, instead putting her into a ludicrously unconvincing quasi-romance with Dani’s 18-year old son RayJay (Patrick Johnson)–with the two of them running off to Paris at season’s end.  None of it worked on any level.

Dani’s own repetitious bounce in and out of a relationship with newly-appointed General Manager Matt (Marc Blucas) has become a bore, and truly, it’s time for a moratorium on season-finale positive pregnancy tests.  Also going nowhere:  the regular hints of a possible romance between Dani and Nico, which this season included a kiss that had everyone involved quickly backing off.  Although this crisis allowed for some welcome guest star appearances by Dani’s own therapist (a tart Peter McNichol), it’s time for the show to decide whether to play that card or not.   (Nico’s apparent arrest at the end of the season finale was more exhausting than exciting.)  Meanwhile, Dani’s patients of the week have been, almost without exception, simplistic and uninvolving, and episodes that tried to play off real-life sports issues (like the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal and the use of performance enhancing drugs) have done little with their subjects.

Necessary Roughness has a rich premise, a terrifically talented star in Thorne (who mostly operates at about half-speed here, compared to her work elsewhere), and plenty of possibility.  In its current form, though, it’s not exciting anyone, and that includes viewers.  The show scores a mediocre 0.5 in the ratings (half of what Suits does), and barely justified renewal for a reduced 10-episode third season.  If it’s going to build an audience and serve as more than a placeholder until USA finds something shinier to put in its place, it needs to put on its own helmet and push its way into some grit and purpose.  While pleasant enough to watch, at this point it’s all too forgettable.

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."