Therapy sessions take little work
Cast members have been sharing their secrets between takes.
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It's only 8 o'clock Monday morning, and the cast of "Help Me Help You" is already in group therapy.
At least one day a week, the stars of the new ABC comedy gather to spend many hours sitting in a circle, spilling out their characters' fears and foibles to Dr. Bill Hoffman, the therapist played by Ted Danson in this new ABC sitcom.
And in between takes -- for this ensemble, anyway -- life has a way of imitating art.
On a Paramount Studios soundstage, the camera moves around the office, bringing each character in the group into focus as dialogue is uttered again and again, interspersed with occasional improv.
The lulls between setups bring the reality of shared confidences.
"We are usually in that configuration, in that circle, for 14 hours, so we end up doing a lot of conversing," said Jere Burns, whose character, Michael, is in court-ordered therapy because of anger problems
Darlene Hunt, who plays the very sexually needy Darlene, says it was clear on the pilot episode that the cast was going to open up to one another more than might be customary on first working together.
"Because it's about therapy, everyone instinctively started to share very personal stories ... and we have continued to do that. We goof around a lot ... but we also know the deepest, darkest secrets of each others' lives," Hunt said.
"It's comfortable. It feels safe in there, like a group-therapy type environment, so maybe we give up a little too much about ourselves. At least I do. I wear my feelings on my sleeve," said Charlie Finn with a deadpan expression. He plays Dave, a determined nonentity with suicidal tendencies.
The series, which airs tonight at 9:30, also features Jim Rash, who plays the metrosexual Jonathan, clearly in denial about his real sexual orientation, and Suzy Nakamura as Inger, professionally successful but lacking basic social skills. Jane Kaczmarek regularly guest stars as Anne, Hoffman's ex-wife.
Clever but self-deluded, Hoffman has as many -- if not more -- problems, as his patients, which appealed to Danson, veteran star of the sitcoms "Cheers" and "Becker."
"I liked the kind of aren't-I-so-wonderful and yet tripping over himself [character], so bad at everything in life, so full of himself, yet so unexamined. That's fun," Danson said. "His therapy was real, yet he was a mess."
Danson says he also was attracted to the writing on the series because it wasn't necessarily "four jokes to a page" -- a sitcom standard.
Because Danson and every member of the ensemble say they've been in therapy at some time or another, they remain respectful of the process. Most also acknowledge that perhaps it's natural for actors to identify with self-exploration and are happy to be able to use their firsthand experiences on camera.
"Well, as soon as I read the therapy part, I said, 'I can do this,' because I had plenty of experience, so I don't have to bring much extra. I'm neurotic," said Finn, who tried group therapy for a while.
"Well you are required to go to therapy as soon as you move to Los Angeles, so I've spent some time there," Hunt said, laughing. "I think we are having fun with it but showing some of the truth to it, too, because when you are in that situation, it does allow you to go to your really emotional places or your nutty inner thoughts, and I think that it's a fun area to play with."
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