Dr. Elizabeth Goode
"I have herpes."
It's a credit to Alexandra Wentworth's comedic talents that she's still able to surprise us with such a convincing and unexpected response, especially considering her Dr. Goode has conditioned us to craziness over the previous installments of the Starz series Head Case. These 10 episodes comprise the series' second (technically third, with the shorter first season presented as a bonus feature on the Season 1 DVD set) and sadly final season. The show's essence is still thriving, with a bevy of celebrities (mostly lower tier, although Jerry Seinfeld shows up this season) playing themselves in therapy sessions with the highly unqualified shrink to the stars. In addition to doling out terrible advice, the self-centered Dr. Goode--who also suffers from near-crippling sex, self-esteem and family issues--is judgmental, distracted, inappropriate and insulting in her one-on-ones (actually, with the continued staff interruptions, it's usually two-on-ones).
The doc--who never met a name she didn't like to drop or a boundary she didn't like to disrespect-- is joined in her Beverly Hills office by her married (but soon to be divorced) co-workers: the lonely (and still patient-less) Dr. Myron Finkelstein (Steve Landesberg) and curvaceous receptionist Lola (Michelle Arthur), desperate as always for her boss's attention. Returning in recurring roles are Myron's emotionally damaged daughter Goldie (Candace Brown), now free of her burka but full of daddy issues (I won't spoil what precedes the line "Should I have something with a pocket?"); one-armed janitor Ron Julio (Aris Alvarado); and Lizzie's fame-whoring fiancÚ Jeremy Berger (Rob Benedict), who's vanity, lack of morals and overall douchebaggery reaches even higher levels this season.
Head Case is still an exaggerated foray into tasteless, mean-spirited material with unlikable characters in uncomfortable situations--which is right up my alley (six words you should never say: "Congratulations! I see you're pregnant again!"). Wentworth one again is unafraid to look ridiculous, repeatedly diving into a never-ending series of embarrassing scenarios; and Lola remains my favorite character, with the charismatic Arthur showing off a variety of weapons in her arsenal (and not just her twins...). And then there's the show's secret weapon, the celebrities. Most of the exchanges here are stone-faced, sarcastic stare-downs in Dr. Goode's office, and the show is at its best when it sticks to its proven formula with the stars unafraid to mock their own personas.
But Season 2 shakes things up a little too much with stunts, messing with its simple concept far too soon (a mistake for such a young series). Dr. Goode becomes even more insane as her marriage crumbles after only eight hours, leading to some annoying, over-the-top hysterics (I almost wish the show kept the impending wedding as a recurring joke in the background, perhaps with multiple postponements). Many other time-consuming subplots distract us from the truly funny material--too much is made of an underground drug ring masquerading as a smoothie business in the office (unbeknownst to Dr. Goode); ditto the shady business venture Myron and David Koechner get involved with.
Myron in general is a waste of air time this season. His gag of desperately seeking out patients has worn thin ("If you ever wanna talk...or, I could prescribe something for you..."), and there's not a single redeeming quality to the character--which would be fine if he was funny (he's not--he's just annoying). But Brown spices things up a bit as his schizophrenic, sex-addicted daughter--her portrayal meshes perfectly with the show's tone (she reminds me a little of Sweet Dee from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and I wish she was used more this season.
Some of the office sessions don't gel as well as they could because Lizzie is so wedding crazy--a trait that hijacks a few scenes and becomes repetitive. The show also spends a large amount of time outside the office this season: Dr. Goode makes a lot of house calls--including a few trips to New York--and it just doesn't quite work (too much too soon, Head Case!). The show also makes far too many "Jewish" quips (as in: "They're just better mates in general, the Jews...they have low self-esteem, so they try harder" or Dr. Goode's talk about taking down Jeremy, a.k.a. "that little Jew hobbit"), which dilutes their impact. And a "Myron gets kidnapped by Hasidic Jews" subplot isn't as funny as it thinks (although any storyline that references an obscure movie with my favorite actor of all time can't be that bad: "If I hear about that fucking Montgomery Clift movie one more time!").
It all keeps this season from finding its rhythm for a while, but patient viewers will be rewarded with a riotous final third--and plenty of great scenes along the way still keep the earlier episodes entertaining, including the unfortunate setting for Lizzie's wedding, a joke that never gets old (I also love the belligerent wedding planner); an excitable Andy Dick; and the recurring herpes sight gag.
The best twist comes in Episode 8 ("Twinkle Twinkle"), when Dr. Goode is convinced by Tiffani Thiessen that she needs "a gay". That leads to tryouts and the "casting" of Steve (Patrick Bristow) as her new BFF, leading to some witty banter and an eventual showdown with Lola ("You know what you should be sorry about right now is that ridiculous braids on your head! You look like you came off some bad Roman coin reproduction!"), who's jealous of his time with Dr. Goode. The episode also features the spirited return of Twinkle (Luenell Campbell), one of Myron's many ex-wives, who injects a heavy dose of raunch into the proceedings (ditto MADtv's Michael McDonald, playing a lecherous date of Lizzie's). The episode also features cameos from Season 1 veterans ("Hey! You're the tard!"), leading to one of the most enjoyable entries in the show's history (Episodes 8 and 9 alone are enough to add this season to your collection).
As for the celebrities, it's hit and miss--but even the "misses" provide plenty of laughs. Many guest stars aren't given enough to do or say (Thiessen, Ginger Spice), while others just aren't given good material (Laura Kightlinger comes across too flat) or aren't comfortable with the whole acting thing (Macy Gray, who apparently just wants to cuss). Others interactions are too obvious--the unconvincing Paulina Porizkova has a model rant (the least entertaining of any guest star appearance here); designer Isaac Mizrahi has "style block" (yawn!); and a trip to the Playboy Mansion has nothing original to offer Hugh Hefner (he has sex with lots of women, just not Dr. Goode: "Have you ever in sessions with me for once thought about what it would be like to...tap this?"). Surprisingly, Janeane Garofalo doesn't really do much in two appearances (data mining phobia = not funny), although she has a deliciously awkwardly encounter with Tori Spelling and hubby Dean McDermott. Meanwhile, Heroes star Greg Grunberg isn't quite as funny as he was last season (his obsession with Dr. Goode is taken to the next level here).
But those scenes are far outnumbered by the homeruns. I most enjoy the sequences where the celebrities come across natural and just react to Dr. Goode's questionable tactics (yet they still aren't afraid to make fun of themselves in the process). Saundra Bernhard, wrestler Dave Batista (who knew?!) and Illeana Douglas (who professes "I'm finding it almost like a stigma that there's absolutely nothing wrong with me" before a laughing Dr. Goode strikes back: ""I'm sure that's not true...I see 10 things already!") all shine, as do disturbed actor Craig Bierko ("I dreamt I was fucking my cat..."). A shirtless Jeff Probst does a good job turning the tables on the good doctor after feeling insulted ("The reason that you don't know who you are is that you are grappling with your sexuality. I mean, nobody is that cut who's straight...have you ever seen the Al Pacino movie Cruising?"). As for Seinfeld? He's a good sport here ("What's the deal with toothpaste?"), even if he looks like he's about to start laughing (something we're all used to seeing anyway).
A few standouts from Season 1 return--and continue to surprise as they steal their scenes: actor Jason Lewis has a blast, and Desperate Housewives actors James Denton and Kevin Rahm (his Ken doll role playing is fantastic) are great sports in a homoerotic-themed session initiated by DH creator/writer Marc Cherry (whose tyrannical nature is played for laughs here, but given the recent lawsuit filed by Nicollette Sheridan, it makes you pause).
And as for Dr. Goode's baby mania that strikes in Episode 8? It provides a bounty of maniacal material that had me falling in love with the show all over again--and distraught knowing that the series was over (damn you, Starz!). In addition to a memorable gynecologist appointment, an ambitious quest by Steve and a new low for Lola, it provided the single funniest exchange of the season when Elizabeth gets interviewed by an adoption agency worker--whose series of "true/false" questions produced a quintessential Elizabeth moment that shows just how wonderfully heartless and hysterical this series can be. Thanks for the memories, Alexandra...the doctor may be out, but I've still got Head Case fever.