TV Review: Smooth Delivery For USA’s ‘Necessary Roughness’

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CHICAGOUSA’s new summer drama “Necessary Roughness” gives new meaning to the phrase “the psychiatrist is crazier than the patient.” In this case, Callie Thorne (“Rescue Me,” “Californication”) is Dani Santino, a freshly dumped wife and mother of two teenagers who runs a psycho- and hypnotherapy practice out of her tony suburban Long Island home. Television Rating: 4.0/5.0
Television Rating: 4.0/5.0

Tough-as-nails, but with what can best be described as functional obsessive-compulsive disorder, she confronts her husband’s serial philandering after noticing that the pristine bed linens in her guest room have been tucked in with hospital corners instead of box pleats. She then embarks on the typical cinematically chaotic, lost-at-sea post-breakup spiral, enabled by her childhood best friend Jeanette (Amanda Detmer, “Saving Silverman”), who encourages her into a one-night stand with an attractive guy at a bar (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”’s Marc Blucas).

Necessary Roughness
Necessary Roughness
Photo credit: USA

In a fairly unlikely turn of events, Dani sticks around the next morning to demonstrate her hypnotherapy skills to her new potential love interest, who turns out to be a physical trainer for an NFL team with a troubled star wide receiver. Impressed by her ability to get him to quit smoking, he convinces his coach to commission her to help Terrence “T.K.” King (“True Blood”’s Mehcad Brooks), a player as known for his loose-cannon, criminal behavior as for his on-field slump. Though she begins to regain her emotional footing with her career resurgence, the new job makes her deepening romance with her now-coworker Matthew (Blucas) a big no-no. Essentially, she must choose between happiness in her career or her personal life.

Necessary Roughness
Necessary Roughness
Photo credit: USA

Like most pilots, this episode has a cloying amount of exposition, and yet despite that, it’s a highly watchable (if predictably fluffy) piece of summer programming. Thorne is earnest and multi-layered. Her delivery of merely average writing lands lines that would fall flat in a lesser performer’s hands. Though the best by far when she’s angry — and fairly irritating when she attempts cuteness — Thorne’s mostly un-self-aware, committed portrayal of Dani will find you rooting for the steely, slightly mad character to come out on top.

Plus, her budding romance with the earnest Matthew is hopeful and sweet, and I found myself hoping they could make it work, even as I was conscious of the barely tenuous plausibility that Dani would achieve a successful long-term relationship with the quintessential rebound guy. Matthew’s tender affection for Dani makes his pairing with her emotionally fragile and wounded character a believable one. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this reviewer has always liked Blucas ever since his “Buffy” days and — an embarrassing confession — since his appearance in the saccharine Katie Holmes vehicle “First Daughter.” So I’m hoping that he remains on “Necessary Roughness” for a while and that his relationship with Dani will eventually come to satisfying fruition.

Beyond Blucas, Thorne’s scenes with Brooks’ T.K. are taut and believable. It makes sense that the troubled football player would be not-quite-a-match for the ferociously nurturing Dani, who displays a showy bravado that barely masks her visible, and understandable, nervousness around the angry player. Their love-hate chemistry, especially when propelled by her rage, is like a well-choreographed fight scene. If Brooks’ character can stay somewhat-troubled, and the writers resist the urge to rehabilitate him, T.K. will make an interesting foil for Dani in the long term.

All in all, with great casting choices, decent writing, and strong performances (especially by Thorne, Blucas, and Brooks), “Necessary Roughness” distinguishes itself as a very strong product on the summer TV lineup. As a viewer, I’m eager to see where this rookie will go from here.

The pilot of “Necessary Roughness” airs Wednesday, July 29 at 9:00 p.m. CST on USA. It stars Callie Thorne, Marc Blucas, Mehcad Brooks, Amanda Detmer and Scott Cohen TV critic Emily Riemer

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