Series Premiere — Necessary Roughness, “Pilot”

Necessary Roughness is a weird program. The pilot episode doesn’t particularly feel USA-like no matter how the cable giant wants to market the series and so much of this episode’s story feels…complete. I’m never one to complain about a pilot episode actually feeling like a solid, standalone narrative, but I’m not really sure what Roughness presented to me in these opening 72 minutes that will truly continue onward in a satisfying fashion. I hate to pull out this criticism, but it doesn’t feel like there is a series here — or at least an interesting one.

I assume that TK’s going to be around throughout the series and continue to have issues, but the climax of this pilot reached a fairly obvious “conclusion” to his problems. No one is ever totally fixed, but I imagine that follow-up episodes will have to work extra hard to have him relapse and act like an idiot. One of the big touchstones of the USA Network formula is for its lead character to help people with its special skill on a weekly basis and clearly, that’s what Necessary Roughness is going to be all about. But unlike Burn Notice or White Collar or most USA series, Necessary Roughness doesn’t have the right back drop for the kind of formulaic storytelling it is going to engage in. There are a number of ways Michael Westen can save a client and even a number of ways Kate Reed can help a mediation go smoothly, and in those series, at least the cases can be different and have distinct back-drops. Roughness can’t really do that as long as it sticks with Dani working with one football team.

If it does, the formula looks like this: Each week, Dani is going to help other people on this football team, the staff, etc. and they will then play better. I can’t wait for her to help the kicker who’s overly superstitious and the offensive lineman who is having dietary problems. But does that mean that every week will start with a terrible game from the team and will end with a big victory thanks to a lovely play by Dani’s client? And by the end of the season, won’t she have worked with most of the team’s important players? I’m already bored just typing this. And if she focuses on other athletes or people outside of the sports arena, what’s the point of focusing on this team and these characters to begin with? Is TK just going to stumble into episodes while Dani helps a teenage hockey player? I understand USA’s desire to step outside the crime-solvers corner of its formula, but thus far, all the series that don’t follow that kind of framework are more problematic than the ones that do.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy parts of this episode. Callie Thorne is a great fit for the Dani role and I thought Mehcad Brooks did a nice job with a fairly standard, rote role as the egotistical wide receiver. Marc Blucas was fine, but sort of disappeared after the first few acts once the focus turned to Dani’s work with TK. Thorne and Brooks have a solid chemistry with one another, which helped make both their angry blow-ups and heartfelt reconciliations seem somewhat legitimate (albeit too easy).

Interestingly, this pilot felt a bit darker and dirtier than what USA Network typically offers. I’ve read a few articles hinting at that being a purposeful choice, but it only kind of furthers my point that Necessary Roughness isn’t right for the USA brand or its audience. The story about USA executives telling Matt Nix to move Burn Notice from New Jersey to Miami is well-told, yet here we have a USA series returning to the less luxurious world of Long Island. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a problem, but it doesn’t give the series the chance to emphasize the beauty of the location and all its landmarks like White Collar, Burn Notice and even Psych can do. Moreover, the melodramatics with the kids are off-putting and annoying — USA lead Characters cannot have kids! — and the pace of this episode felt a bit off as well.

I didn’t hate Necessary Roughness and I’ll be watching a few more episodes just to see if I’m wrong about the adaptability of the USA formula to this kind of story. I have no problem with being wrong, but unless there’s a severe change of pace from how things usually flow out from USA pilots, I don’t think I will be. Despite a few good performances and a somewhat intriguing (but not interesting) premise, Roughness is just boring and gives me no reason to think it will be not boring in the future.

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