November 6, 2004
Huff, his wife and his dog are sleeping peacefully. Then the dog stirs, a security alarm goes off and Huff and Beth are suddenly wide awake, confronting the latest crisis in their lives.
This scene on a soundstage for Showtime’s new series ‘‘Huff’’ seems an apt metaphor — it’s all about waking up psychologically and emotionally.
Premiering Sunday night, the show stars Hank Azaria as Dr. Craig ‘‘Huff’’ Huffstodt, a psychiatrist who gets a new perspective on life after a gay teenage patient commits suicide in front on him.
Believe it or not, the show’s a comedy.
‘‘I got the concept somewhere from my own personal shrink. Yes, I admit I’m in therapy,’’ says Bob Lowry, the creator and executive producer. ‘‘The suicide in Act One is Huff’s wake-up call, if you will, which triggers him to not only be reflective and examine his life, but to make every attempt to embrace everything that is put before him on a daily basis.’’
‘‘We don’t flinch,’’ Azaria says between scenes. ‘‘We don’t look away. We explore mental illness, from the severe to the slight.’’
Azaria, too, is open about being in therapy, ‘‘on and off for 15 years.’’ It’s helped him through difficult times, including his divorce from Academy Award winner Helen Hunt, star of the old sitcom ‘‘Mad About You’’ in which he had a recurring role as Nat, the dog walker.
Paget Brewster, last seen in the short-lived Fox sitcom ‘‘Andy Richter Controls the Universe,’’ plays Huff’s wife, Beth. Blythe Danner is his manipulative mother, Izzy. Oliver Platt plays his charming but substance-abusing best friend, and Andy Comeau his brother, an institutionalized schizophrenic.
‘‘The Bob Newhart Show’’ from the ’70s notwithstanding, there’s always been a bias against developing TV shows about mental health professionals, says Robert Greenblatt, Showtime’s president of entertainment.
‘‘The feeling was that people outside New York and L.A. really don’t go to shrinks, and if they do, there’s a stigma and they don’t want to admit they go,’’ Greenblatt says.
But he thinks now ‘‘there is much more openness in the rest of the country to these kind of ideas about getting help and putting yourself on the right track as opposed to ignoring problems.’’
‘‘Huff’’ airs 10 p.m. Sunday on Showtime.