TV Review: 'Huff' benefits from Stone's acting instincts

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If anyone's forgotten about Sharon Stone, it's obvious that this spring, she's doing her best to change that.



When: 10 p.m. Sunday, Showtime.


If her appearance in the season premiere of Showtime's "Huff" is any indication, she wants her 21st-century rediscovery to be as provocative as the last time she was a household name.

Her appearance as a substance-abusing, manipulative and possibly mentally ill public relations executive in Sunday's premiere is a nice change of pace and yet more of the same from "Huff." Actually much, much more of the same we've come to expect from this impressive if precious dramedy. But in this instance, at least, more is better. (Cable subscribers with access to premium channels -- usually those with a converter box -- can get a free Showtime preview this weekend.)

When we last saw fearless hero-cum-noble man of questionable judgment Dr. Craig Huffstodt (Hank Azaria) in the season-one finale, our titular psychiatrist was entertaining the opinions of his greater family on another job well done.

"You're crazy!" screamed his mother after he walked in on her basking in the midday, dust ruffle-appointed afterglow ... with his best friend, Russell Tupper.

"You do do crazy stuff sometimes, Dad!" yelled Huff's son (Anton Yelchin).

At which point Huff (accidentally?) threw Russell down a staircase, and his brother Teddy (a diagnosed schizophrenic) stole his car and drove away.

Midway through the premiere, the good doctor's wife, Beth (Paget Brewster), confesses, "I don't know what we did to deserve all of this," and as summations go, she's on the right track.

But no one seems in a rush to reconciliation: Not Russell's zaftig "baby mama," not Huff, not his mother, Izzy, and definitely not Beth. The movie-length first episode does what the show in total does so well -- it fleshes things out.

Blythe Danner continues to shine playing Izzy, now an even more vulnerable shell of a woman -- especially in one scene, surprisingly tender, given the way it opens.

"Gram," yells her grandson through the front door, "I know you're in there -- I can hear you drinking."

Even Teddy (Andy Comeau) takes on a more nuanced role. He's no longer simply a sounding board for his brother or the Shakespearean madman speaking the truth when no one else is willing. The faces of his illness become distinct, menacing one moment and eerily similar to the mental processes of "normal" people the next.

Between the new patients, old problems and last-minute dashes to Tijuana, series creator Bob Lowry, who wrote Sunday's episode, does seem to lay it on thick and slow at points. But as setups go, Lowry, who admits he got more than a little encouragement to write from his own therapist, couldn't have hoped for better domino placement.

The unique amalgam of a show that "Huff" has been -- a sort of sampler platter of hyperbolic though realistic, sympathetic but often self-sabotaging characters -- retains its balance and tone quite well this season.

Fans of the show need not worry that Stone's guest star turn will ring false or contrived. Despite the recent blitz of ad-campaigning connected to Friday's release of the follow-up to "Basic Instinct," Lowry refrains from shoehorning Stone where she ought not be.

It's quite a good match, especially, paired as she is with Oliver Platt's equally dysfunctionally excessive Russell.

When Stone hits her note of desperate self-objectification, it's hard to feel any regret at her being so obviously typecast. Fans will certainly be glad she signed up for the guest spot -- and she isn't even the best guest star this season. By the time Anjelica Huston shows up for her guest role down the road a few episodes, they'll truly be ecstatic.

Philip A. Stephenson can be reached at or 412-263-1419.


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