There are quite a few amusing moments in ABC's new comedy "Help Me Help You." Which is not quite the same thing as saying it's a very funny show.
Ted Danson, as apparently renowned therapist Dr. Bill Hoffman, suffering through his own mid-life crisis, is funny, and so is Jane Kaczmarek ("Malcolm in the Middle") in a recurring part as his ex-wife. A couple of Dr. Hoffman's patients, notably Suzy Nakamura as a woman who lacks utterly any social skills, are funny. Ditto Bruce Altman as a professor who's dating Bill's daughter (Lindsay Sloane) but appears to have a bigger crush on Bill.
For all that, though, "Help Me" doesn't quite break through to the level of TV's better comedies, the "Earls" and "Offices" and "How I Met Your Mothers" of the world.
The show's chief problem is one of balance between stories about Bill's own life and those of his group-therapy patients, which also include a depressed office drone (Charlie Finn), a gay man in denial of his sexuality (Jim Rash), a guy with anger-management problems (Jere Burns) and a woman addicted to therapy (Darlene Hunt). The Danson-centric material is pretty strong -- he seems to be having fun playing the deeply neurotic Bill, and single-camera comedy agrees with him, allowing him to dial back his persona and do some nice physical work (which he was great at in his "Cheers" heyday).
When the focus shifts to the patients, though, things get a little rocky. Bill gives each of them an "assignment" each week, which are meant to tie in with whatever the doctor is going through himself. In practice, though, it doesn't quite come out that way, and we're treated to a series of quick-hitting (and a few not-so-quick-hitting) scenes of each person bumbling through their homework, and watching three or four variations on the subject gets rather wearisome.
Rash's Jonathan is the second gay-man-in-denial we've seen this season (after Sam Harris in "The Class"), and though he gives a good, understated performance, the character is still mostly a bundle of Broadway-loving, sports-impaired, "Grey's Anatomy"-watching easy jokes. Hunt's Darlene and Burns' Michael are also rather one-note at this point, and Finn, who starred in the underrated "Life on a Stick" and has a couple of nice moments in the pilot, pretty much disappears in the second episode sent to critics.
Still, I'm not ready to write off "Help Me Help You." Danson and Kaczmarek are almost effortlessly good at their jobs, which is almost reason enough to keep this show in the DVR rotation. If the writers can bring the rest of the show up to that level, it could earn season-pass status.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times