When actress Ali Wentworth launches the third season of “Head Case” on the Starz on Friday, her character, Dr. Elizabeth Goode, has wedding fever.
Or maybe it’s fever blisters.
After all, her fiancée, agent Jeremy Berger (Rob Benedict), has admitted to her that, among other things he’s bringing to their marriage, he has a case of herpes. And, it seems, a severe case of cold feet.
Get the impression that “Head Case” might be a little edgy? Wentworth, who is married to “ABC This Week” host and former Clinton administration bigwig George Stephanopoulos, loves to serve a side order of squirm with her sitcom, on which she serves as executive producer and writer.
Her series, which began as 15-minute interstitial programming to fill in between movies on Starz, quickly became a half-hour of original programming, in which Dr. Goode meets with – then interrupts, bullies and otherwise contradicts – the needs of her celebrity clientele. Among those who take to Dr. Goode’s couch in the early episodes: singer Macy Gray, comedians Janeane Garofalo and Larry Miller, with Jerry Seinfeld and Hugh Hefner slated for upcoming episodes.
She shares the office suite with Dr. Myron Finkelstein (Steve Landesberg), a shrink whose practice is so moribund that he’s constantly trolling the lobby for patients. And she’s forced to divide her attention between her own patients and the ongoing dramas in the life of her assistant, Lola (Michelle Arthur).
Wentworth talked about the show – and her own feelings about therapy – in a recent telephone interview:
Q: Do you believe in therapy?
A: I have this obsession with therapy – I get it. I’ve been to therapy. I used to obsess about old Woody Allen routines where he talked about Freudian therapy. I was fascinated by that whole world.
Q: Is Dr. Goode based on anyone you know?
A: The character is based on some horrific therapists I’ve had. I had a therapist years ago in New York. I was talking to her, crying about my parents’ divorce. And, like, 10 minutes later, she looked at me and said, “Where did you get those shoes?” And I thought, I’m paying good money – and yet this therapist is that self-obsessed.
Q: And the combination of therapy and celebrities?
A: I believe that, in a way, therapy is the most self-indulgent thing in the world. So celebrities – who are already self-obsessed and therapy? It seemed like a natural.
Q: Was there an a-ha moment, in terms of conceptualizing this series?
A: I was in a supermarket, looking through magazines, and I saw a picture of Marilyn Manson and a story about how he went from a typical suburban boy to the rock star he is. And I wondered if he’d ever been to therapy. I started thinking about extreme celebrities in therapy.
Q: But he hasn’t been on the show?
A: We’ve been very lucky and got everybody I wanted – except Marilyn Manson. And that was a scheduling problem. There have been a few scheduling things that kept people from doing it. But I haven’t had anybody say, “I won’t do it because I don’t get it.”
Q: How do you choose the celebrities to approach for the show?
A: I choose them for their improv chops. Of course, the big stars are too guarded, too afraid of playing like that. I mean, I’d love to have Julia Roberts on but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Q: How much of each therapy session is scripted?
A: There’s nothing on paper. I meet them in makeup but we don’t discuss anything. I don’t prepare anything with them. I usually drive the session and I find what I’m going for in the first minute.
Q: Any surprises in terms of who is best able to swing with you?
A: What surprised me was that comedians are very serious. And the people you think of as dramatic are hysterical. Alanis Morissette – you assume she’ll be really serious. But she couldn’t have been funnier. She came up with great lines.
Q: Perhaps Dr. Goode could treat some politicians.
A: I’d love to have politicians on. But the therapy thing throws them. I’d love to have Dick Cheney on the couch.
Q: And your husband? Think he’d make an appearance?
A: The chances of George being on my show are about as great as me being on his roundtable. That would be his biggest nightmare. Taking from his own life would be too controversial.
Q: Speaking of your husband and controversy, how did you respond to the uproar over that Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama debate that he and Charles Gibson moderated during the campaign last year?
A: The criticism after the Clinton-Obama debate killed me. I obviously don’t want anyone going through that kind of press assassination. I love the man, I live with the man. That backlash surprised me a lot. It’s usually about how the candidates answer the questions – but this time it was about the questions they were asking. And these were the questions people did want to know about. He’s better at handling that than I am. He’s been doing that a lot longer than me.
Q: So – Dr. Goode is getting married. But the guy’s got herpes – and he seems like he’s already looking for the exit.
A: I just thought that was a funny idea: What if she had a marriage that lasted eight hours – and he left her with an STD? Of course, then I had to wear a prosthetic herpes sore through the last half of the season. That was a pain in the neck.
Q: It sounds like she’s ready for some therapy herself.
A: I haven’t had her go to her own therapist. I can’t help thinking about “The Sopranos,” when Lorraine Bracco would go see Peter Bogdanovich to get a tune-up. I love that. It’s something I want to do next season.
Q: Anything else you’ve got planned for Dr. Goode?
A: Next season, I’d look for her to adopt a child – but, like, a 12- or 13-year-old who hates her. And I’d love for her assistant, Lola (Michelle Arthur), to hook up with a celebrity – but someone a lot farther down the gene pool than, say, Brad Pitt. Perhaps we’ll have Lola go out with someone and he’ll be a premature ejaculator.