‘Necessary Roughness’: nighttime soap tackles gays in sports

The USA series “Necessary Roughness” is winding down its current — and third — season with a two-episode arc dealing with a football star deciding to reveal that he is gay.

The first part aired Wednesday and the finale will be shown next Wednesday at 10 p.m. USA sent me an advance copy of the two shows a few weeks ago, with a note from Howard Bragman, the chairman of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations, who worked as a consultant for the producers:

“There may be gay soldiers, firefighters, police officers and actors, but one Holy Grail remains in the world — a male professional athlete in one of the ‘Big 4’ sports who comes out during their playing career.”

(I would argue that another “Holy Grail” in this realm would be a major male movie star coming out while at the top of his career — we’ve had TV actors like Neil Patrick Harris and young rising film actors such as Zachary Quinto and Matt Bomer declare that they are gay, but not a reigning superstar.)

The scenes on the two “Necessary Roughness” episodes dealing with quarterback Travis Smith (Rex Evans, center left) wrestling with his sexuality are plausibly written and acted, but are really just a set-up for next season when the full implications of Smith’s decision will begin to filter out through the sports media and among the fans of the show’s fictional New York City team.

To get to the interesting stuff about Travis you have to wade through a lot of junk about the love life of series lead Callie Thorne who plays Long Island psychologist Dr. Dani Santino, who appears to be some sort of consulting shrink to the football team (I’ve never seen the show before).

Based on these two episodes, “Necessary Roughness” is decidedly inferior to two other USA series I’ve enjoyed — “White Collar” and “Royal Pains” — and it is a big step down from the quality we’ve come to expect from series on the pay cable giants HBO and Showtime.

The acting is no more than competent and the show seems to spend most of its time on the characters’ bad-romance-novel private lives than on what goes on behind the scenes at a big sports franchise (I was hoping for a pro football version of “Moneyball”).

Still, it’s good that the series is addressing an issue that was made even more relevant by the headline I saw on the MSN Internet news feed yesterday:

“Ex-US soccer player
says he is gay, retires”

Joe Meyers