USA Network has, in recent years, developed into a strong provider of top-notch escapist fare, especially during the long summer months. USA's shows tend to be the equivalent of what the publishing industry regards as "excellent beach reading," which is generally interpreted to mean that the content might be lighter than air, but there's still something compelling about it.
My personal favorite of USA's series, the throwback spy action-comedy "Burn Notice," has recently returned for its fifth season; the off-kilter doctor drama "Royal Pains" and the con man/FBI agent team-up of "White Collar" are also among the networks more popular offerings. These shows fit the USA mandate: unique characters in unusual settings doing interesting things.
The cable network has rolled out several new shows over the past few seasons, the latest being "Necessary Roughness," starring Callie Thorne. The show's creators clearly want it to deepen USA's roster of fun, not-too-deep dramas, but unfortunately, it comes up more than a little short. "Roughness" is intended to be a light drama about a family therapist (Thorne) who, after realizing that her husband (played by Craig Bierko) has been cheating on her with a number of other women -- and subsequently throwing the bum out, decides to build her home-based practice by taking a cocky and high-priced -- but clearly troubled -- pro football star (Mehcad Brooks) on as a patient.
The show's premise was quite promising, and I went in with high hopes. But as the program played out, I found that I had several problems with the show, starting with its scattershot tone. I'm not sure there's a show on the air right now that feels this out of balance; "Roughness" is, at any given plot turn, two or three shades goofier -- or conversely, more serious -- than it ought to be. Thorne is admittedly appealing in her part (most of the time, anyway), but precious few other characters make any positive impression whatsoever. (Bierko's ex-husband character is a particularly rotten-hearted fellow -- to the point of being cartoonish -- but even the therapist's two teenage children don't engender much, if any, sympathy, even with a last-minute change of heart scene that felt tacked on to me. And don't get me started on the best friend of the lead character.)
Only Scott Cohen, as the quick-witted mystery man who shadows the therapist, makes any real dent. For example, when introducing a hulking stranger who will watch over the therapist's children when she has to make a late-night intervention to save the football player from himself, he facetiously quips that the man "has a degree in early childhood development."
Certain scenes, particularly the ones between Thorne and Cohen, work well, but most of Brooks' therapy sessions come off as stagey, and the episode's resolution comes too quickly and is simply too pat. Plus, USA's tendency to air extended-length pilots means that there are a number of scenes that ultimately lead nowhere; these could have just as easily been excised from the show as left in the final product without anyone missing them.
I appreciate the fact that USA has found a programming formula that brings in a sizable base audience for its advertisers, all the while making some pretty fine, if disposable, entertainments. Unfortunately, in the case of "Necessary Roughness," I think the network merely produced something disposable. Two stars (out of four).