[07/20/06 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Help Me Help You" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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With the official start of the 2006-07 season less than three months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month or so previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at one of the 39 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entry:

(Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30c this fall)

The network's description: "(from ABC's press release) Whoever came up with the idea of group therapy? Take a bunch of people who are all really messed up in different ways and put them in a room together to try and help each other out. he group leader, Dr. Bill Hoffman, is probably the craziest and most self-obsessed of all, but his patients would never know it because he hides behind his very respectable celebrity image as a bestselling author of phenomenally successful self-help books. Directed by Brian Dannelly ("Saved," "Weeds"), the series explores the comical side of group therapy as members of the group apply the good doctor's advice to the real world with enthusiastic effort, until they begin to realize maybe Dr. Bill should be doing the heavy lifting along with them. Ted Danson ("Cheers") stars."

What did they leave out: The role of Bill's daughter Sasha, originally played by Carla Gallo, has been recast with Lindsay Sloane now playing the character.

The plot in a nutshell: Successful psychiatrist and bestselling author Dr. Bill Hoffman (Ted Danson) heads a weekly group therapy session for his patients. A series of vignettes - complete with title cards - introduces us to said clan. There's Dave (Charlie Finn), who's suicidal - fresh off of trying to jump out of a window (and accidentally landing on his boss); Jonathan (Jim Rash), who doesn't know he's gay; Inger (Suzy Nakamura), who lacks all social skills; Michael (Jere Burns), who's got anger issues; and Darlene (Darlene Hunt), who's just a complete mess, constantly falling in love with her long line of therapists. Bill's advice to them for this week: try to make a connection with someone. Unbeknownst to them however is that Bill is just as much of a mess as his patients - he can't handle that his daughter (Carla Gallo) has just started dating a man (Bruce Altman) twice her age, not to mention get the fact his estranged wife (Jane Kaczmarek) has moved on and is now dating a Volvo dealer (Tom Wilson). These developments have sent Bill into a mid-life crisis, complete with a meltdown in which he tries to trash he car with a golf club. The group conversely is faring much better - Dave's latest attempt inadvertently has intrigued a co-worker (Majandra Delfino); Inger opens up to a date about her issues (she spent five years in a room alone inventing software that's made her rich and retired and a young age); Michael and Darlene are seeing each other in secret; and Jonathan asks out a bartender at a juice bar, only to have him quickly point out he's straight. When all is said and done though, Bill proves to be the one needing the most help.

What works: Much like its fellow ABC newcomers "Big Day" and "Notes from the Underbelly," the show's premise and cast are likeable enough...

What doesn't: ...just not enough to be appointment viewing. And for a show about people who attend a group therapy, the patients' problems are decidedly one note, leading the jokes to be - you guessed it - one note. Jonathan acts like a gay person but doesn't think he's gay! Didn't catch that - Jonathan once again acts like a gay person and still doesn't think he's gay! Things more or less roll downhill from here - Michael yells, Inger does or says something awkward, Darlene makes a pass at Bill, etc., etc. In fact, only Charlie Finn's character has a real arc - he actually figures out why he jumped out the window that day - making one wonder if it would have been a stronger show if Bill's patients weren't regular characters. Not that Bill himself has any more layers - he simply coasts on Ted Danson's charisma as he overreacts to anything and everything. Overall, I can't help but feel a collective "shrug" about this show.

The challenges ahead: Will "Help Me" - along with "The Knights of Prosperity" (i.e. "Let's Rob...") - be able to hold onto its "Dancing With the Stars" lead-in?

  [july 2006]  


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