Object Lessons: Rantings of a Lone Pamphleteer
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Blow the House Down

I've been looking forward to seeing the new Showtime show Huff, and finally got around to watching the first episode last night. Unfortunately, I was not impressed. The show involves a psychiatrist (Huff) who, in the first episode, sees a client commit suicide in his office. No, that's not a spoiler, because Showtime advertised that portion for months, which is one of my complaints. The advertisements revealed too much about the first episode. A really good show holds back the highlights, allows you to discover the show as it develops.

Which leads me to my second complaint.

The plot points and characterizations were thrown at the audience with the subtlety of a brick house collapsing. The show appears to rush through all the emotions, characterizations, and discoveries that would normally take several episodes to develop. For example, Huff has a "normal" evening arguing with his wife about his mother (played by the incomparable Blythe Danner) the night after his patient shoots himself. It is only a couple of nights later that he is found crying in bed. No exploration. No carefully revealed growth of realizations, no slow slide out of shock into pain. Bam! and he's crying.

Killing off a character right off seemed unsubltle as well. Of course, it sets up the rest of the show, which they have under wraps. Oddly, Showtime's tight-lipped attitude regarding upcoming episodes directly opposes their openness concerning the first episode; they're telling little now, but told too much before.

Jon points out that Six Feet Under also killed off a (central) character the first episode; the rest of the first season was resolution of that death. Still, SFU handled it better, slowly revealing character as the episodes developed. SFU handles the revelations as if the audience were flies on the wall, allowing the characters to interact and reveal themselves slowly.

Another example of the lack of subtlety is found in the 14-year-old son's monologue: "You can always talk to me, dad." C'mon. Seriously. I don't mind having an "anti-teen" who is not self-involved; in fact, that' s interesting. But keep it real, people.

I'm willing to reserve final judgements until I've seen more episodes. But Huff seems shallow, forced, contrived, and ultimately fails to evoke the emotion in the audience that it's cast exhibits so freely... too freely. Perhaps because we know too much up front about the character's motivations, and not enough of their background, the show falls flat.

Despite fine acting in Huff, there is something... hollow about it all. The show feels as if there is no core, which perhaps is the point: Huff is suddenly questioning his life. He says "I feel as if I've been asleep for 42 years." Problem is, if the show plans to reveal a reversal in his life, they needed to reveal more of his life before the tragedy.

Another example: Huff's father is mentioned and dismissed in two lines, and a brother who is never mentioned is suddenly visited by Huff 3/4 of the way through the first episode. The show reveals the wrong things bluntly, and the points it should reveal slowly are slammed at us with the subtlety of a wolf in a children's story.

Good points: The cast is superb, excepting the son, whom I find annoying. Blythe Danner, Hank Azaria, Paget Brewster (lately of Andy Richter Controls the Universe), all are good actors. The guest star list shines like a night at Spago: upcoming episodes include Annie Potts, a fattened-up (thank you Jesus) Lara Flynn Boyle, and one of my favorites, Swoosie Kurtz. Huff has a lot going for it, and I hope it improves.

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