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USA's Necessary Roughness could use a sand-blaster

A hand-on-hip Callie Thorne heads cast of Necessary Roughness USA photo

Premiering: Wednesday, July 29th at 9 p.m. (central) on USA
Starring: Callie Thorne, Marc Blucas, Mehcad Brooks, Scott Cohen
Produced by: Liz Kruger, Craig Shapiro, Kevin Dowling

Further sanding, preferably followed by a power-washing, is required on USA's Necessary Roughness. It also should be ashamed of its cheap epilepsy joke, which begs for a total removal before air time.

USA network's latest summer addition, paired with Wednesday's Season 3 premiere of Royal Pains, has a capable and authoritative lead actress in throaty Callie Thorne. Her many prime-time travels have taken her through regular or recurring roles on Rescue Me, Prison Break, The Wire and ER among others.

But the extended 75-minute pilot episode of Necessary Roughness tends to collapse around her, even though it's based on a real-life psychotherapist named Dr. Donna Dannenfelser.

Dannenfelser's way too big a mouthful for a prime-time TV character, so Thorne instead is named Dani Santino. By any name she's a messy mix of jilted wife, manic mother and budding shrink to the stars.

Early in Wednesday's opener, Dani deduces that her husband has been unfaithful. And in their own bed to boot, which he fails to re-make properly on at least one telltale occasion. She immediately demands a divorce, drawing little sympathy from battle ax mother, Angela (the recurring Concetta Tomei).

"Ma, he cheated on me, more than once!" Dani protests.

"But less than Tiger Woods," mom reasons.

Dani's best pal, a floozy named Jeanette (Amanda Detmer), tries to offer wiser counsel. "You need to pop your cherry into the next life," she tells Dani at a bar. No sooner said than done. Dani's quickly in the sack with a handsome dude named Matthew (Marc Blucas), who also happens to be the trainer of a made-for-TV pro football team called the Hawks.

Dani's a whiz at other things, too, such as curbing Matthew's smoking habit through hypnotism. He's impressed enough to recommend her as a therapist for the Hawk's star receiver, a very thinly disguised, cocky Terrell Owens knockoff named Terrence King (Mehcad Brooks).

"I got me a superstar wide receiver dropping balls faster than an epileptic juggler," says the Hawks' quick-tempered head coach. Putting a crude joke like that in the script merits a season-long suspension. So get rid of it.

Meanwhile, Dani's two teenage kids, Lindsay and Ray (Hannah Marks, Patrick Johnson), are pretty much left to fend for themselves in the immediate and traumatic aftermath of their parents' sudden split-up. Dani seems to have no professional skills at all when it comes to her troubled daughter. She instead strong-arms her with all the dexterity of the "namby pamby land" drill instructor turned therapist on those Geico commercials. Still, Dani informs her soon to be ex-husband that she doesn't want his money, but "you try to take my kids and I will kill you." Root for the Lothario to prevail.

Wednesday's unwieldy premiere also includes some sort of Hawks team "fixer" named Nico Careles (series regular Scott Cohen). He mediates between Dani and the recalcitrant King, an insult machine who says he ain't gonna be "talkin' to some bony ass Dr. Phil wannabe."

King of course is going to melt down, but only after first stiffing Dani at a New Jersey strip club where he's enjoying the private company of a bevy of practitioners.

Dani is supposed to end up being, as USA publicity materials describe it, "the most sought-after therapist for high-profile clients," with a rich client list of "athletes, entertainers, politicians and others living in the spotlight." Given that setup, it's hard to see how the aforementioned Hawks' triumvirate of Terrence, Nico and Matthew will all somehow fit in and fulfill their billings as the series' three other regular weekly characters.

Thorne's performance occasionally threatens to rise above this mess. But it's tough to overcome a narrative opening line that goes like this: "My dad used to say life is like a football game. There's winners and there's losers."

How profound. And Necessary Roughness is never quite able to rebound.

GRADE: C-minus