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‘Help Me Help You’ and Help Danson, Too

He’s baaaaaack! Ted Danson had two years of sitcom sobriety under his belt, but he finally caved when Help Me Help You came calling. Of course, he did make four TV movies in between to ease any potential withdrawal symptoms, but still…impressive.

Help Me Help You sees Danson playing a different kind of doc than he did on Becker–a shrink. Dr. Bill Hoffman (Danson) is a highly regarded therapist who in each session mediates a group of patients, each with his or her own laundry list of problems. In the series premiere (9:30 p.m. ET, Tues., ABC), the group in need of Hoffman’s help is as follows: Dave (Charlie Finn), who’s “suicidal,” opens the show by jumping out of a window in a suicide attempt only to have the boss who’d just fired him break his fall; Jonathan (Jim Rash) is “gay (in denial)”; Inger (Suzy Nakamura) has a complete “lack of social skills”; Darlene (Darlene Hunt) has a list of problems so long that the freeze-frame shot intentionally cuts away before we can even read it; and Michael (Jere Burns) is there to satisfy a “court order” (read: anger-management issues).

As per the public conception of shrinks, Dr. Hoffman never points the finger inward, as in evaluating himself. And as per the current TV formula, he is recently separated from his wife (Jane Kaczmarek) and their daughter is confused and left trying to impress her dad. Both factors come back to bite him as he stumbles home drunk one night–into the wrong house! He “accidentally” goes to his estranged wife’s house–although Hoffman, a non-believer in coincidences, would likely write it off as a Freudian slip–and into bed with her and a man she’s seeing. Only after the mess is sorted out and he and his ex wind up sleeping together does it begin to hit him: He thought it was great make-up sex, whereas she thought it was great break-up sex. Aha!

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Danson headlines the show and its biggest flaw. Not that he’s not a perfectly delightful actor, as he’s proven; the problem is, watching an actor or actress at work, a viewer should be able to unlearn the artifice of the actor playing the part. But with Danson, he’s been so many different people–mostly on shows not too different from this one–that it’s impossible to forget that this is just another gig for him. He’s stolen our innocence! In fact, the only scenes worth watching, possessing a little freshness, are sans Danson. Rash (Reno 911), for one, as a gay man in denial, gives an inspired and hilarious performance. Such complex headcases and the ever topical New-Age-y psychology angle, courtesy of Help Me’s gifted writing staff, give the show some potential. But of course everything will ultimately have to go through its aging star, and that’s a somewhat grim reality–and forecast for the show.

Bottom Line: Help Me Help You is pleasant and innocuous enough to warrant the occasional viewing, but if it only explored its hinted irreverence a bit more the show might be interesting. And if only Ted Danson could practice the control his character preaches.

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