Once you get past the penalty-worthy pun in its title, “Necessary Roughness” is another pleasant, shrewdly conceived dramedy from the slick machine known as USA network. Providing longtime supporting player Callie Thorne a well-deserved star vehicle, the show offers a nifty mix of work and home life, while simultaneously balancing lighter material with the pain of a woman going through a divorce. All told, “Roughness” represents a silky smooth addition to a lineup of series whose commitment to old-fashioned fundamentals and minimal histrionics improbably keeps paying off.
Having played the widow and ex-wife in “Rescue Me” and “The Wire,” Thorne is cast here as a psychologist who knows something’s rotten when her lawyer husband (Craig Bierko) keeps telling her not to wait up. The affair discovered, Dani quickly tosses his clothes out the window and begins wondering how she’ll pay the mortgage to keep that expensive roof over the heads of her two kids (Hannah Marks, Patrick Johnson).
A few weeks later, a night of “You need to get out” drinking with her free-spirited pal (Amanda Detmer) results in a one-night stand with Matthew (Marc Blucas), who turns out to be a trainer for the local NFL franchise. And lo and behold, the team’s Terrell Owens-like star receiver — played by Mehcad Brooks (“True Blood”), and not very subtly called “TK” instead of T.O. — has begun dropping passes right and left, prompting the snarling, at-wit’s-end coach (GregAlan Williams) to try resorting to therapy in order to restore his skills.
So while she seeks to rebuild her personal life — with scant help from her mom (Concetta Tomei), who reassures Dani her husband cheated “less than Tiger Woods” — the character embarks on this new second career that her son, at least, thinks is way-cool. Looking over her shoulder, meanwhile, is the team’s fixer (Scott Cohen), a menacing sort who nevertheless says all the right things when required.
Written by Liz Kruger and Craig Shapiro and directed by Kevin Dowling, “Roughness” smoothly exploits the winning combination of Thorne — who practically oozes sex appeal, while still conveying an approachable vulnerability — with the macho NFL setting. By that measure, it’s a more satisfying effort than USA’s similarly themed “Fairly Legal.”
Of course, how well the series progresses remains to be seen — what’s next, a lineman with body-image issues? — but unlike so many pilots, this rookie takes the field exhibiting considerable polish. Coupled with its talented star, USA’s proven strategy and a compatible “Royal Pains” lead-in, all bodes well for keeping “Necessary Roughness” in the game.