'HUFF' Returns with a Bang and a 'Crash'

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Despite some respectable reviews, Showtime's drama series "HUFF" never really found the audience it deserved during its first season.

The premium channel is trying to remedy that situation in season two, which premieres Sunday, April 2, immediately following the Showtime premiere of the recent best picture Oscar winner, "Crash," during a free sneak preview weekend on most cable systems.

That's quite a high-profile relaunch for "HUFF," which opens with psychiatrist Craig "Huff" Huffstodt (Hank Azaria) fretting over his recent fight with substance-abusing best friend Russell (Oliver Platt) and the disappearance of Huff's mentally ill brother, Teddy (Andy Comeau).

The episode also marks the beginning of a story arc featuring Sharon Stone as Russell's latest client, a high-maintenance public relations executive. Stone does everything but don a T-shirt reading "Submitted for Your Emmy Consideration," but series creator Bob Lowry and his writing team wisely have circled their wagons this season and concentrated on Huff's intimate circle of family and friends -- especially his tippling, hilarious and maddening mother, Isabelle "Izzy" Huffstodt (Blythe Danner, who won an Emmy as best supporting actress for her work in season one.).

Izzy's hitting the bottle even more heavily this season, especially in the wake of a catastrophic confrontation with son Teddy, who had tried to kill her during a past psychotic break, so her character is even more of a loose cannon than ever before. Stay tuned, though, as subsequent episodes delve more deeply into what transformed this once-loving mother into such a shrew, which Danner dives into like an all-you-can-act buffet.

"Izzy can be so funny and so charming, and then the daggers come out," Danner says of her character. "On a very superficial level, I say she's sort of like Archie Bunker in Chanel. She says the damnedest thing. She has no censor at all.

"This role is such a gift, coming at a time in my life when I'm forging out on my own with my husband not around."

Producer-director Bruce Paltrow, Danner's husband of 32 years, died in 2002, and daughter Gwyneth Paltrow subsequently married and began a family in England with Coldplay singer Chris Martin. Far from rattling around aimlessly at home, however, Danner has found herself in an Indian summer career any actress would envy.

"Bruce was the real heart of our family, and I just feel like the huge empty space that there was has been filled with new life and my beautiful granddaughter, with another on the way, and then all these great roles too," Danner says.

"I think Izzy is my favorite among them, but as our schedule on 'HUFF' permits, I've had a chance to play other wonderful women. I must say that getting older has been kind of a wonderful thing for me, because the roles that are coming my way are getting better and better."

As "HUFF" viewers will remember from season one, life for Izzy took a painful turn years ago when husband Ben (guest star Tom Skerritt) walked out on the family. Season two peels back more layers of Izzy's character, however, examining why she can be so casually cruel to some family members yet so nurturing and loving to grandson Byrd (Anton Yelchin).

"What was interesting about this character is that, having played a lot of the classics, especially Chekhov, at the Williamstown (Mass.) Theatre Festival for the last 20 years or so, all those complex, Chekhovian women really informed Izzy in a funny way," Danner says. "The writing by Bob Lowry and his staff is complex, and they do peel back so many layers that all that (stage experience) was very helpful to me in a way I hadn't expected.

"I love delving into Izzy every week, because there is so much richness and so many similarities to what we all experience every day, although ['HUFF'] may be exponentially a little larger. When I first read the script, I thought, 'Oh, how wonderful to just use all of me!'"

The new season also forces Izzy to confront her relationship with mentally ill son Teddy, for whom she has felt a dysfunctional mix of terror, pity and revulsion. It's a harrowing mother-son relationship that hasn't been explored on TV before, Danner says.

"I think people are very trepidatious, even frightened, about delving into parental fears or anything negative like that, unless it's handled in a funny way," she says. "But to do it with as many layers as there are [in 'HUFF'] is something that we rarely see.

"I did a film called 'The Myth of Fingerprints,' and I remember thinking then that the very peculiar relationship of Roy Scheider with his children was just so complex and almost bordering on psychotic. It was handled subtly, though, which is something we don't see too much. Maybe it's because it's just buried so deep and people don't want to 'go there' very often."

Danner's Emmy win came the same year she made history as the first performer to be nominated for three different projects in the same season (the other two nods were for her recurring guest role on 'Will & Grace' and her starring role in the TV movie "Back When We Were Grownups").

"That was actually sort of embarrassing at first," she says, laughing. "I've always been such a company member. There's a Chekhov quote that it's not the fame and the glory, it's the work [that matters], and that's something I've always told my children.

"For a number of years I was mostly mothering. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about my career, and not a lot of really good roles came along, so I wasn't expecting any awards for it. So winning an Emmy after so many years was really thrilling, although getting three nominations in one year certainly was more than enough."

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