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'Huff' Just What The Doctor Ordered

'Huff' Just What The Doctor OrderedAnew series on Showtime starring two Tufts graduates,Hank Azaria and Oliver Platt, is reaping accolades from both criticsand viewers.Medford/Somerville,Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [11.29.04] Friends and former Tufts drama standouts Hank Azariaand Oliver Platt share the stage in Showtime’s successful,eclectic new series “Huff,” which has been met withcritical acclaim since its fall debut.

“It’sabout how everybody’s screwed up and fantastic at the sametime,” star Azaria said to The New York Times.

Azaria playspsychiatrist Craig “Huff” Huffstodt, a character facinga midlife crisis precipitated by a patient’s suicide inhis office. His relationships with his wife, son, mother and schizophrenicbrother also come into play.

“Mostpeople don’t wake up until they learn they’re goingto die,” Bob Lowry, the show’s creator, told the SanFrancisco Chronicle. “The suicide is Huff’s wakeupcall.” Lowry remarked to The Washington Post thathis show was “the only existential comedy-drama on television.”

Azaria describedhis character to the Philadelphia Inquirer as “aresponsible, hard-working, honest guy who’s discoveringhe can’t save anyone. He’ll be lucky if he saves himself.”

Azaria alsotold the Times that his own experiences in therapy madehim “feel like I understand the dynamic.” He evenshowed the first two scripts of the show to his own psychiatristto get a second opinion, so to speak, on their authenticity.

Lowry toldThe New York Times that Azaria was chosen for the leadrole because “he’s an incredible comic actor and healso can be very poignant and heartbreaking. Huff, the character,is not a one-note character.”

While manyfolks are used to hearing Azaria – even if they don’tknow it’s him – voicing characters like Apu and ChiefWiggum on “The Simpsons,” or shining in bit partsin “The Birdcage” or on “Mad About You,”the actor is grateful for a chance to flex his dramatic skills.

“I’musually the guy who’s bouncing off the walls,” hetold The New York Times. “It’s fun to bequiet and still in the center of something as opposed to somekind of scene-stealing freak.”

The show,which draws comparisons to HBO’s dark “Six Feet Under,”was regarded as so promising that Showtime ordered two season’sworth before the premiere even aired.

“Youdon’t often read a script this good,” Azaria toldUSA Today.

By virtueof being on cable, the show’s writers can take greater libertieswith the characters – particularly Platt’s.

Platt playsHuff’s friend Russell Tupper, a character the Los AngelesTimes calls “the show’s anarchic life force.”He portrays a self-centered lawyer who indulges in illicit encounterswith women and drugs.

“Russellis a very, very good lawyer, and like a lot of high-functioningprofessionals he is a victim of his own compulsive behavior,”Platt told the Los Angeles Times. “Professionals[like him] tend to lubricate their denial and think that theydon’t have a problem.”

While Azariaand Platt are friends in real-life, the friendship in the showbetween Huff and Tupper is a more complex one, as the psychiatristsilently watches his lawyer and friend indulge in self-destructivebehavior.

“Thereare times when Huff wants to say more and doesn’t,”Azaria described to the Los Angeles Times.

While Azariais no stranger to television – he has successful stintson “The Simpsons,” “Friends,” and “MadAbout You” under his belt, but his NBC sitcom “ImagineThat” was cancelled in 2002 after just two episodes –“Huff” is a shift in format.

“Thisis my first hour drama, and we really hit new heights,”he told USA Today. “The series builds, and by episodethree it’s very intense and funny at the same time.”

While initiallyreluctant to return to a starring television role following thefailure of his sitcom, Azaria realized that “Huff”wouldn’t be like other shows.

“I realizedcable was the place for me,” he told the Inquirer.“You can go to those dark, weird, harsh places if you wantto.”

Azaria shiftsformats again in “Monty Python’s Spamalot,”a theatre side project that opens in Chicago in mid December andheads to Broadway in February.

With its blendof drama and comedy, “Huff” appears to defy convention– The Los Angeles Times called the show “richlycurious.” Azaria just calls it honest.

“Lifetends to hand you a lot of horror, happiness, joy, misery andsadness,” he told the Times. “That’swhat we’re shooting for.”




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