ABC’s development this year does its fair share of recycling, from “Men in Trees” channeling “Northern Exposure” to this in-need-of-therapy sitcom owing a debt to “Newhart.” Therapy groups have long been fertile comedic ground, as has the notion of a counselor who can’t follow his own advice, with Ted Danson filling those shoes here. Yet while his old-pro timing gives the show a modest lift, “Help Me Help You” provides more of an incentive to get off the couch than to plop down on one.
Series rifles through the various members under the care of Dr. Bill Hoffman (Danson), who pays lip service to all the usual self-help homilies but still pines for his ex-wife (Jane Kaczmarek, a part-timer on the show), who has hooked up with their car dealer. Bill’s daughter Sasha (Lindsay Sloane), meanwhile, is keeping company with a much older fellow, adding to Bill’s existential tsuris.
As for the group members, they run a fairly predictable gamut from the obviously gay guy (Jim Rash) in denial about his orientation to the fellow with anger-management issues (Jere Burns) to a multi-symptomatic sex addict (Darlene Hunt) to a suicidal office worker (Charlie Finn) who leaps out a window and lands on his boss.
Each is shown trying to put Bill’s advice into action, with the best sequence involving Inger (Suzy Nakamura), a woman utterly lacking social skills with serious problems connecting with men. Asked why she’s been surfing an Internet dating site that caters to Jews, she deadpans, “Because I’m not attracted to them.”
Alas, that’s really the show’s only laugh-out-loud moment, and the supporting players are almost by definition such archetypes it will be difficult to get invested in them, putting most of the weight on Danson’s shoulders. It’s familiar territory for him, to be sure, though initially less interesting than his “Becker” role.
Notably, the series also repeats most of its premiere beats in the second half-hour — in which Bill uncomfortably crashes his daughter’s birthday party — and makes a gross miscalculation by giving the gay character a sweet, doting wife, which seems more painful than funny. At this point, the show appears to be squandering Danson, who could certainly handle an extra dimension that simply isn’t there.
As a practical matter, “Help Me” will need some help in a timeslot where its eventual lead-in — another new half-hour, “The Knights of Prosperity” — should provide a rather soft springboard.
On the plus side, this group of crazies will require years to benefit from Bill’s tutelage, which, given the mortality rate of recent sitcoms, would be a nice condition to have.