That Shrinking Feeling: A New Show About an M.D. in Distress

In the ads for Showtime's much hyped new series, Hank Azaria, who plays Huff, is caught with his pants down. More than his pants, actually—he's stark naked in the middle of a busy street, with only a briefcase to cover his private parts. The image suggests a guy who's lost control of his life, but it's also an allusion to the fact that Craig "Huff" Huffstodt is a psychiatrist, someone expected to make sense of the dreams and anxieties his patients bring him. After one of his regulars commits suicide in the pilot episode, though, cracks in the doctor's own psyche begin to show.

There haven't been many TV series based around shrinks other than Frasier, so Huff has dibs on a lot of potentially fascinating material. And it has an impressive cast that includes Blythe Danner as Huff's acid-tongued mother, Oliver Platt as his debauched best friend (the most piggish lawyer outside a David E. Kelley production), and the underappreciated Azaria. But it lacks the great writing you'd expect on a drama aiming for critical cachet. You can see the existential unease etched into Azaria's face, but clichés tumble out as soon as he opens his mouth. "I'm a psychiatrist who's tired of listening," Huff confesses to his schizophrenic brother, who (how ironic) lives in a mental hospital. Add in a dollop of magic realism (a homeless Hungarian man who may be an angel) and wait for the whole thing to buckle. Or not. Showtime—ever in pursuit of HBO-level acclaim—has rewarded Huff's ambitions with a second season. Enough time, I hope, to untangle its dreams.

 
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