17 February 2010 | Miles-10
Uneven and odd psychological drama
This seven episode series is about psychiatrists and their patients at a private residential facility in New England in 1988. The family owned hospital is very much a family business. Dr. Sam Garrison (Josef Sommer) founded the place, his daughter, Issy (Katherine Borowitz), is a psychiatrist on staff, too. She feels her father doesn't appreciate her. Her husband (Bob Gunton) is the medical doctor who treats patients' bodies while the rest of the staff treats their minds. Issy's rarely seen brother, Steve, is apparently a shrink as well, but he is away, "not dealing" with his demons, which involve the death of his wife. Another son (Tony Soper) couldn't hack medical school and became the business manager of the hospital. His wife (Susan Diol) hates living there and wishes her husband would take her away. Sam's ex-wife (Alexis Smith) couldn't stand living there either, which is why she is his ex. Other staff members include nurses led by Lucy (Maureen Moore); activity director Billy (Joseph C. Philips); Louise (Louise Latham), the veteran secretary; and Ginny (Madi Weland) the head social worker. The other shrinks include Art (Michael Jeter), Ved (Art Malik) and Marie Teller (Michael Learned). Ved is 32 and Marie 47. They are having an affair in which Ved is in love but Marie is not. One of the more negative "hothouse" effects is that everybody--including the patients--knows who is sleeping with whom. The more positive effect, or so Dr. Sam thinks, is that this intimate setting promotes growth and healing, "The Good Family" of the first episode. It is as if the patients become part of Sam's family.
A doctor named David (Peter Friedman) gets married in the second episode (and leaves the series); so several episodes are spent in search of his replacement. As the staff complains of being swamped with too many patients per doctor (Art is said to being seeing more outpatients than anyone else.), Sam dithers over whether to accept or reject a hotshot young female psychiatrist (Holly Felton) who seems a bit too prima dona-ish.
This show is a bit clunky in that some of the ideas about therapy seem dubious and the first couple of episodes seemed sluggish and stagey. Ved practices the hyper-aggressive (and apparently made-up) "kinetic" therapy in the first episode but in later episodes this is no longer mentioned. Art is obviously gay but protests his heterosexuality especially in the two episodes "Nancy, Part One" and "Nancy, Part Two." His counter-transference (falling in love with his patient, Nancy) is manically (if not maniacally) portrayed as he confesses his desire to Ved who, at long last, informs Sam--who says, "I was wondering when you were going to bring that up." Speaking of undercurrents of alternative sexual identity, the chief nurse, Lucy Cox(Maureen Moore), is wonderfully ambiguous, always dressing in plaid work shirts and blue jeans and a hairstyle just long enough not to be a page boy. In one episode she comes upon Art playing basketball. He challenges her and she easily takes the ball from him and puts it through the hoop. She does once imply that she has a boyfriend, Mikey, but he is never seen. She met him while bowling.
This series drew me in, ultimately, because of the performance of Michael Learned and the plights of the various patients. Several guest stars make very good impressions, including but not limited to Marsha Mason, Edward Herrmann, Amy Locane, the actors' who play Amy's parents (Charles Kimbrough and Helen Carey??), and Barbara Feldon. One character, a pathological liar named Jakie (Nicholas Strouse), almost steals several episodes, leading up to "His Mother," the episode in which he makes an impressive departure from the series.
I saw the first six of the seven episodes. Though flawed, it would be worth taking a look at if it were available. The "Hothouse" TV movie might well be exactly the same as the first episode, "The Good Family." The cast list for the movie on IMDb matches that of the actual first episode. One of the things about this series is that there are actors who are almost unidentifiable. Augusta Dabney is in the first episode (and listed without character name in the TV movie on IMDb), but if she is the actor who plays the character, Ida, then this was a noteworthy performance. Other characters are played by people who cannot be found on IMDb at all. In some cases they are unfindable anywhere, while in some cases, they turn out to be better known as stage actors or, in one case, a successful business owner.