Using advanced psychiatric techniques, Judge Clark Douglas has written a review that will induce mental illness in all who read it.
America's Greatest Epidemic is Celebrity. Meet the Cure.
"Celebrities have a delusion of building a castle inside their mind. I am here to collect the rent."
Facts of the Case
Dr. Elizabeth Goode (Alexandra Wentworth, Office Space) has made a name for herself in Hollywood. You'll see her face constantly in entertainment magazines and on celebrity gossip television shows. Oh, she's not an actress. She's a therapist. Dr. Goode specializes in celebrity therapy, which translates into, "she doesn't treat patients if they aren't at least a little bit famous." Her very unconventional brand of therapy is controversial to say the least. Cynics might even call it "insane" and "dangerous," but Dr. Goode continues to attract A-list (well, B-list) patients on a regular basis. She is aided in her mission by British assistant Lola (Michelle Arthur, The Number 23), the one-armed janitor Ron (Aris Alvarado, Gilmore Girls), and a clueless therapist named Dr. Myron Finkelstein (Steve Landesberg, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) who can never seem to attract any patients for himself. Meanwhile, Dr. Goode also attempts to deal with her off-again-on-again relationship with her talent agent boyfriend, Jeremy Berger (Rob Benedict, Still Waiting…).
Watching Head Case, one can almost hear the pitch being made to the executives at the Starz television network: "It's like the American version of The Office but with a female lead character instead of a male, it's like Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist but without the annoying squigglevision animation, and it's like Extras except with actors who have nothing better to do instead of hot Hollywood stars." Head Case rarely feels very original, as one gets the constant sensation that all of the pieces have been pulled from other television success stories. While it rarely attains the heights of any of the programs it attempts to mimic, Head Case still manages to be a pretty amusing half-hour of television comedy.
There's a half-scripted/half-improvisational vibe to Head Case that provides a very nice comedic balance. On the one hand, it feels at times like anything can happen, based on how skilled the players involved happen to be. In the other hand, the show doesn't go off the rails nearly as often as something like 10 Items or Less, because one senses that the writers are keeping a fairly steady grip on each episode's direction. "You work towards this. We don't care how you get there, just get there, and make the journey as funny as possible." Wentworth's interrogations of her clients are hit-and-miss, but when they work, they really work.
One of my favorites involves Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry and actor James Denton (one of the stars of the show). Denton complains that Cherry doesn't give him enough to do. "Well, it's just that you're so flat and dull when all of the other actors are so gifted and versatile." The argument and therapy session that follow are simply priceless, and Cherry in particular demonstrates a real knack for improv comedy. There's also a delightfully confused exchange with Jeff Goldblum, an angry battle with Lea Thompson, and fun appearances from Monica Potter ("Why does everyone think I'm Julia Roberts?"), Christopher Lloyd, Richard Kind, Greg Grunberg (who probably offers the filthiest improvisational riffs), and Joel Madden.
The supporting characters contribute a great deal to the success of Head Case. My favorite is Steve Landesburg, who seems as if he might fall off the deep end if only it weren't so much work. His desperate attempts to get clients become increasingly amusing, leading to such tactics as taking on clients who speak languages he doesn't understand and offering free advice to telemarketers. Rob Benedict is quickly becoming very effective at playing the "sexually charged loser," and has some fun scenes here. Perhaps the most sympathetic character in the show is Lola, as Michelle Buckingham gives her a warm humanity that is curiously lacking from everyone else in the show (more on that in a moment).
The transfer here is reasonably solid. Colors are fairly sharp, and the level of detail is fairly solid for a standard-def release. Dark scenes get a bit murky, but the show has a pretty bright visual tone most of the time. The audio is effective and well-distributed, though I found the monothematic score by H. Scott Salanis incredibly irritating. All of the full-length episodes are included on the first disc, while the all of the 11-minute "Bonus Shorts" are included on disc two. These are essentially shorter, less elaborate episodes of the show that don't play a big role in advancing the plot. Combined, these shorts run just over two hours, and are pretty fun if a little more trivial and loose than the proper episodes. You'll find repeat appearances from folks like Ione Skye and Andy Dick, plus new participants like Tom Sizemore. In addition, there's a brief making-of featurette and some kind-of funny bloopers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Here's why Head Case doesn't work quite as well as something like The Office or Extras. Despite all the laughs, it's really hard to care about most of these characters. They're all so narcissistic and self-absorbed, and they go to great lengths to be as obnoxious as possible. It's just very challenging to find any small way to relate to most of them (with the aforementioned exception of Lola), which gives Head Case the feeling of being slightly hollow. The worst offender is perhaps star Alexandra Wentworth, who actually misfires nearly as often as she succeeds in the comedy department. When she's good, she's quite good, but when she's bad, she's really bad. Even so, I'm happy to see a woman getting a lead role like this. These days, there's such paranoia about making sure that women are portrayed as strong, intelligent, and confident that too many of them simply aren't allowed to be funny. Head Case, along with 30 Rock, Samantha Who?, The Sarah Silverman Show and a handful of others, proves to be an exception. It's just too bad that the human aspects of the character weren't fleshed out a little more.
Head Case is light improvisational fun. It's good, but it has the potential to be even better. A solid bit of snack food, if you're in the mood for some laughs.
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