Thorne tackles likable sports drama
I’ve written some about the USA network as a TV factory constructing sturdy, sunny, original dramedies such as “White Collar,’’ “Burn Notice’’ and “Suits.’’ All the USA shows have the same light, character-driven tone that’s perfect for casual summer viewing. They’re consistently and uniformly likable, no more and definitely no less.
“Necessary Roughness,’’ USA’s newest entry, fits in just right with the USA brand. About a psychotherapist named Dr. Dani Santino who treats professional football players, it is a likable product from top to bottom. In the premiere, tonight at 10, Dani helps a troubled wide receiver named TK (Mehcad Brooks) and her career takes off, but her family simultaneously fractures after she catches her husband fooling around. The show has big-money sports jockeying, romantic melodrama, and family issues, and it’s all very . . . likable.
What’s more than likable about the show is Callie Thorne, who plays Dani. Thorne may be best known at this moment as the hot-headed, narcissistic, and even sociopathic Sheila from Denis Leary’s “Rescue Me.’’ For six seasons now (season 7 begins on July 13), she has held her own against the always intense Leary by amping up and going way over the top. She has been a fierce and always entertaining cartoon. On “Necessary Roughness,’’ she finally gets to bring her performance down about 100 notches, to modulate her raw emotions and jettison most of the crazy. She gets to be sympathetic and, except for the occasional outburst including a trip into the men’s room to confront her husband, calm.
If you don’t like Thorne, of course, you have no business here. “Necessary Roughness’’ is her vehicle all the way. She’s in almost every scene, and the central arc is hers, as Dani the shrink learns to, yes, heal herself. She stands up to her husband, she stands up to TK, who is against therapy and hugely stubborn, and she stands up to her delinquent daughter, Lindsay (Hannah Marks). We see her strengths, and, as she makes mistakes along the way, we see her weaknesses. We see her as a mother, a friend (to Amanda Detmer’s Jeanette), a professional, and, briefly, a contented lover. It’s a more dimensional portrayal than any I’ve seen from Thorne before.
Thorne, who is originally from the Boston area, is surrounded by a trio of actors who make their somewhat cliched characters appealing. Scott Cohen is the football team’s fixer, Nico, and he is a mysterious and engaging presence. He helps Dani with some secret maneuvering. Brooks (he was Eggs on “True Blood’’) makes TK easy to take, even when the script reduces his lifelong trauma to a few trite scenes. And as Matthew, a trainer who would be Dani’s lover if they didn’t work for the same football team, Marc Blucas works as the inoffensive nice guy who’s just out of reach.
Again, “Necessary Roughness’’ goes only so far in terms of drama. It’s not incisive, as it skips through stages of emotion and glosses over important plot points at every turn. The theme is therapy, but we get very little insight into Dani’s work, beyond her use of hypnosis. The show is just an undemanding, entertaining, and sometimes whimsical ride. Yup, it’s likable.