Ellen Gray: Thorne a therapist in transition on 'Necessary'

Posted: June 29, 2011

NECESSARY ROUGHNESS. 10 tonight, USA.

FANS OF FX's "Rescue Me" might not agree, but one of my favorite things about USA's newest show, "Necessary Roughness," is that I can once again watch Callie Thorne, unfiltered by Denis Leary.

Thorne, whose character too often registers as shrewish in Leary's firefighter series - which launches its final season on July 13 - headlines her own show starting tonight, playing a Long Island, N.Y., hypnotherapist.

Not that Dr. Dani Santino will be a pushover - or surrounded by any less testosterone than "Rescue Me's" 9/11 widow Sheila.

After kicking her flagrantly cheating husband (Craig Bierko) to the curb, the mother of two finds herself in the middle of an expensive divorce and in need of a clientele that goes beyond women looking to lose their cravings for carbs.

Enter Matthew ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer's" Marc Blucas), trainer for a professional football team in New York you've never heard of. And he has an eye for Dani even before she helps him kick his cigarette habit.

Turns out middle-aged romance does exist on TV, even if couples old enough to be the parents of adolescents are required to meet cute over a pinched nerve, as these two do.

That's before Matthew's boss makes Dani an offer she can't afford to refuse, creating an all-too-necessary obstacle to the relationship and, not incidentally, an important new stream of income for Dr. Dani.

Tonight's challenge: helping a troubled football star called TK (Mehcad Brooks) recover from a bad case of slippery hands, something that's probably going to require a bit more than hypnosis. "Necessary Roughness" doesn't delve much more deeply psychologically than the amateurish button-pushing that goes on in most "reality" makeover shows.

But then if you were looking for insight into the hard work of talk therapy, you'd be catching up on those back episodes of HBO's "In Treatment," wouldn't you?

As USA dramas go, "Necessary Roughness" is about halfway between "In Plain Sight" and "White Collar" on the believability scale, but it's summer and I like Thorne, whose character is feisty and funny and shrill only when shrillness is absolutely justified.

And in the first episode, at least, she doesn't set fire to a single thing.

She's also surrounded by an interesting cast that includes Concetta Tomei as her mother, who likes playing the ponies and telling her daughter what's what, and Scott Cohen, whose shadowy role as the football team's fixer might make him a rival for the good doctor's affections somewhere down the road.

Press materials for the show suggest that Dani, who apparently knows no more about football than I do, won't be limited to treating jocks: "Athletes, entertainers, politicians and others living in the spotlight clamor for her unique brand of tough love therapy during their moments of crisis," says USA.

Congress might want to put her on speed-dial.

'State of Georgia' debuts

Maybe they should just have called it "The Incredibly Shrinking State of Georgia."

Because somewhere between tonight's premiere of the sitcom "State of Georgia" (8:30 p.m., ABC Family) and next week's episode, star Raven-Symoné makes the leap from confident and curvy to full-out femme fatale, courtesy of a dramatic post-casting weight loss that seems to have thrown the show's writers for a temporary loop.

Those writers include the show's Queen Village-based co-creator and executive producer, Jennifer Weiner, a best-selling novelist whose signature characters tend to weigh a bit more than their eyelashes. Which means this is one slim-down that can't be laid at the boss' door.

But it does create a small problem for "Georgia," a show about two twenty-something women - Georgia, an aspiring actress, and her geeky best friend Jo (Majandra Delfino) - in that only one of them now gets to be the Rhoda. And the Rhoda, of course, has all the best lines.

That Delfino, whose appearances on TNT's "Men of a Certain Age" have caught her at her most Scarlett Johansson-like, is the Rhoda would be funny even if the actress herself weren't. But inflicted with a hairstyle she attributes to "uncombable hair syndrome" and a charming social awkwardness, her character steals every scene she's in, even the ones with Georgia's Aunt Honey (Loretta Devine).

Aunt Honey, a zaftig diva who gets to say things like, "You know how exhausting it is when George Clooney is in town - different one, but also looks great in the Batman suit," is, predictably enough, a hoot.

Yet I found myself more drawn to the part of next week's episode where we see Jo with her fellow physics grad students - think "Big Bang Theory" with "American Idol's" Kevin "Chicken Little" Covais - and wondering if a slightly less seductive Georgia (at any weight) might not have a better shot at being the funny girl. *

Send email to graye@phillynews.com.

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