Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer
For quite some time the cable network USA has been cranking out reliable summer shows shot in bright colors to brighten up our sun-filled days. From Burn Notice to White Collar to Suits to Royal Pains. But what has always bothered me about USA’s shows was that they predominantly featured male protagonists doing their male thing. Royal Pains couldn’t introduce a female Lawson family member if its life depended on it.
Last summer USA finally launched a summer show with a female protagonist: Necessary Roughness.
I was quite pleased with this little show that could. It is currently airing its second season and is finding its voice quite nicely, although I do have some complaints with the show, but more on that later. The premise for NR is simple: Dr. Dani Santino is forty and getting divorced, which leaves her taking care of her two teenage children by herself while at the same time she is hired as the team psychologist for the (fictional) NFL team New York Hawks. Her career takes off and soon she is sought after by the most successful athletes, politicians and high-rollers on the East Coast, who all need her special brand of therapy.
Dani Santino is played by the excellent Callie Thorne (previously Elena McNulty on The Wire, eek!), who rightly claimed a Golden Globe nomination for her work. Dani is sassy, sexy, funny and a pretty damn good mother, even when her teenagers go “typically teenage” on her. She even has a love life in the wake of her divorce, and it is with non-other than the Hawks’ fitness coach Matthew Donnally, played by Whedon-alum Marc Blucas (I still maintain that Buffy should have stayed with Riley, he was good for her!).
The show generally works best when it focuses on either Dani’s work with the Hawks or her home life with her children and her new relationship.
Necessary Roughness would make a fine weekly drama, but it infuses every episode with a “Case of the Week”, making it pretty much a psychology procedural, and a shallow one at that. The patients Dani treats from week to week come to her with all kinds of “crises”, such as a star baseball player who keeps striking out all of the sudden, or a poker player who just can’t win anymore, or a NASCAR driver who suffers from panic attacks after a crash. The way the treatment and therapy of these patients is portrayed on Necessary Roughness gives psychologists everywhere a bad name. It is literally Pop Psychology 101. Every problem can be diagnosed with a bit of hypnosis or a stern talk, while the underlying problem that is supposedly a mystery at the beginning of the episode is mostly painfully obvious from the start.
Of course the baseball player is in love with the woman he usually only sleeps with to break his slump. Of course the NASCAR driver has a childhood trauma about witnessing her sister almost die in a car crash. And while Necessary Roughness hints at the fact that even after diagnosis these patients require further therapy sessions, the show never shows the audience these and we have to assume Dani Santino is not the one to provide these further sessions. She just whips out a diagnosis and sends her patients on their merry way with a referral.
See, the reason why this bugs me so much is that psychology and (psycho)therapy gets such a bad rap in society already. There are still way too many people out there who think that you only need therapy if you’re crazy (whatever that means, anyway) and that is simply not true. Too many people believe that therapy is hokum, and the nilly-willy way in which Necessary Roughness drops in hypnosis, aversion therapy and various “just try picturing such and such” gimmicks is careless, misleading and – sometimes – just plain wrong and inaccurate. (I am sure people who actually work in law enforcement feel the same way about any crime procedurals, btw.)
This hackneyed approach to psychology and psychotherapy is especially insulting in the wake of the excellent HBO show In Treatment, where we could see the “talking cure” lived out to its fullest potential (and even there television could not escape from a few dramatizations).
Necessary Roughness is not a worse offender than other USA shows though, which all feature a procedural aspect, used merely as a plot device, but not included to provide a careful study of the subject matter. In Royal Pains it’s the spectacular medical cases and last minute rescues, in Suits it is the legal system and how lawyers can trick their way out of anything. It’s a formula that seems to work for USA, but I maintain that especially Necessary Roughness would be a far better show if it dropped the procedural aspect, because it is offensive and annoying.
There is enough fodder in the daily workings of an NFL team, a home life with two teenagers, a looming divorce, a tax evasion accusation and a newly blooming relationship for Dani to navigate through episode by episode. Not to mention that the one ongoing case she has, that of wide receiver Terrence King of the New York Hawks, is driving the show ever-onward (and is actually not quite as hackneyed as the other cases).
If the show would shift its focus just a little bit and give Dani a long-standing patient for a seasonal arc, for example, instead of introducing a new one every episode, then I truly believe Necessary Roughness could stand a step above the USA crop (since Burn Notice has run out of steam lately where it used to be USA’s pinnacle).
But let me offer this: if you are looking for a summer show that has a female lead – and such shows are few and far between it seems – then definitely give Necessary Roughness a try. There’s football, there’s wine, there’s Marc Blucas, what more could you ask for to get you through a Wednesday night?
Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer
Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.