Beautiful people, scandalous affairs, celebrities on the verge of mental breakdowns: All are aspects of USA’s new series “Necessary Roughness” that should add up to a pleasing, breezy drama.
But as Dr. Dani Santino (Callie Thorne) would tell us (she’s the tough-love therapist at the center of the show), nothing is as perfect as it seems. Then she would probably yell at us, storm out, calm down, come back and use a few more cliches. That appears to be a common sequence of events for this series, which has a promising cast but is bogged down with slow scenes and no shortage of well-worn situations.
Debuting Wednesday night, the drama is based on the true story of Donna Dannenfelser, who worked as mental health clinician for the New York Jets. In this fictitious version, Dr. Donna is Dr. Dani, newly single mom of two teenagers, a Long Island psychotherapist who specializes in analyzing high-profile clients. Dani first realizes this handy skill after she has a one-night fling with Matt (Marc Blucas), the charming trainer for a professional football team, the New York Hawks, who persuades her to help a talented but unstable player, Terrence King.
Terrence King (T.K., if you will) is played by Mehcad Brooks, who has a blast embodying the spoiled jerk of a highly skilled athlete who doesn’t mind that he’s dropping passes during games, as long as he can drink and go to strip clubs with his millions of dollars.
“Let me tell you something, lady,” he says at their first session. “Last year, I made $9 million, plus bonuses, I signed with Adidas and I [slept with] 39 different women. My life is ridiculous!”
Thus begins the relationship between T.K. and Dani, which is riddled with non-surprises, from T.K.’s personal reasons for misbehaving to the conclusion of the therapy sessions when it’s game day. Considering this plotline makes up most of the 75-minute pilot, it’s disappointing when the interaction between the two drags along.
An underlying theme of the series is cleverly hinted at through the title: Dani is supposed to be a tough lady. We know she’s no-nonsense because she’s the kind of mom who knows when her daughter is wearing a midriff-baring top under her baggy sweatshirt (“When you are making a living as a hooker, you can dig this out of storage,” she tells her sulky high-schooler). Dani also barges into men’s bathrooms without knocking to confront her ex-husband and doesn’t flinch when giant athletes threaten to go crazy. We get it — she’s tough. But, mostly, it just seems like she yells a lot.
The series needs more than her toughness. Yawn-worthy side plots in the first episode include Dani’s divorce battle with her ex, Ray (Craig Bierko), who tries to reconcile with her and then looks maddeningly proud of himself when Dani reminds him he cheated on her a half-dozen times during their marriage.
And, of course, be on the lookout for the love triangle that could emerge at any second between Dani and Matt — they have to remain professional now that they both work for the Hawks — and Nico (Scott Cohen), the shady but dreamy security man for the team.
The series will focus on such issues and also on Dani as she takes on patients in other genres of “famous”: entertainers, politicians and, next week, a TV news anchor. Regardless, “Necessary Roughness” seems not nearly as fun as it could have been.
(75 minutes) debuts Wednesday at 10 p.m. on USA.