Picks and Pans Review: Hothouse

updated 07/04/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/04/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

ABC (Thurs., June 30, 9 p.m. ET)

B-

It was only a matter of time—measured in 50-minute, $150 hours—before Hollywood would give us a series about psychotherapy. This is it—L.A. Law In a psychiatric clinic, St. Elsewhere in a shrink shop. Hothouse comes with impeccable credentials: Its creator is Jay Presson Allen, who also created Family; feelings are her turf. The show has two playwrights as staff writers. And it has a tony and talented cast—Josef Sommer, a former Shakespearean, as the head of the clinic; Alexis Smith as his ex-wife; Art (Jewel in the Crown) Malik as a young doc romantically linked with Michael (Nurse) Learned as an older colleague; and a handful of other promising regulars. In the two-hour premiere, we watch these good people treat one man who imagines that he's running over people with his car (because he really wants to do that to his wife) and one woman who shoplifts (because she wants attention from her husband). The patients' neuroses—and pat diagnoses—are deftly interwoven with the personal and professional problems of the clinic's staff. But five minutes into the premiere, the inevitable happens—a doc asks a patient, "How do you feel about that?" And the babble keeps bubbling up: "Would you like to tell me about it...acting out...projection...a cry for help...I can accept his anger as part of the transference...Is it time for my pill?" Just once, Hothouse does try to make fun of the jargon. Sommer stands before the candy machine and asks, "What do I want?" He's talking about his stomach. Malik looks concerned and says, "What do you want?" He's talking about Sommer's soul. Then both men start sharing their feelings, and before you know it, one shrink is shrinking the other shrink. Hothouse is way too reverential about therapy, elevating it above business (one of Sommer's kids on the show is a petty MBA who frets over the clinic's financial, not mental, health) and above even science into the realm of art or religion. And that leads the series smack up against Jarvis' Rule No. 3 of TV and Life: "Shows and people that take themselves too seriously are a drag."

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