'Huff: The Complete First Season'
(Hank Azaria, Paget Brewster, et al / 4-Disc DVD / NR / (2004) 2006 / Sony Pictures)
Overview: Dr. Craig Huffstodt is a family man and a successful psychiatrist who gets a wake-up call when one of his patients, a 15-year-old boy, commits suicide during a therapy session. Huff's whole existence - as doctor, husband, father, son, brother and friend - goes through a dramatic reawakening as he begins to question who he is, what he's made of and how he fits in - anywhere. Having always considered himself the eternal caretaker, whose mission is to save people, Huff suddenly realizes that he can't save everyone. The lines of reality start to blur as he goes from the functionally insane at the office to the daily insanities of life with his family at home. His nurturing nature is tested at nearly every turn and soon his so-called "normal" world and family life start to become as surreal as the world of his patients.
DVD Verdict: From the moment the titles on the first episode start, it's obvious that 'Huff' is a different kind of television show. One of the lengthiest title sequences on TV, the surreal mix of imagery and dialogue immediately sets a tone of unease and art, one that carries through into the show, helping create one of the most creative, original and entertaining series out there. The concept is relatively simple, as the show follows the family of Craig "Huff" Huffstodt, a psychiatrist whose life spins out of control when his office is the scene of a tragedy involving a patient. The situation results in Huff becoming unbalanced and somewhat delusional, which is not what he needs, as his ability as a therapist comes under fire, and his home life begins showing some cracks. Hank Azaria was the perfect choice to play Huff, and the role allows him to show what a fantastic actor he is. The part spins from drama to comedy in a single scene, and Azaria has the chops to keep up, while maintaining that undercurrent of likeability that the character needs. It doesn't hurt that his supporting cast is so talented, starting with Paget Brewster as his wife Beth. Walking a similar line as Azaria, she performs a wonderful balancing act, trying to support her husband, cope with his live-in acerbic mother Izzy (Blythe Danner) and raise their son Byrd (Anton Yelchin), a sensitive soul who is growing up too fast. There are so many subplots at work in this show that it builds layers on top of layers of story, blending comedy, drama and pathos. While Huff's family dynamics, including Izzy's complicated relationships and Byrd's battles with adolescence, get the most play, Huff's lawyer buddy Russell (Oliver Platt) and his cocaine-fueled hedonism serve to pace the rest of the series and often push the plot along in spots. His personality allows for very obvious comparisons with Huff's more laid-back and caring way, and also provides a heady amount of comic relief when the show gets heavy. For a show boasting such comedic talent and some very humorous moments, the show can get very heavy, especially when it comes to Huff's patients. Often, they provide a bit of a life lesson for him, but one in particular, the rather insane Melody (Lara Flynn Boyle), provides a world of trouble for him, affecting his professional and private lives. I've never been a big fan of Boyle's, but her work as a nut is very impressive and surprising. The same can be said for Andy Comeau, who plays Huff's clinically insane brother Teddy. The character helps bridge the gap between Huff's two worlds and shows just how they affect each other, and gives Danner's character the depth needed for her to win an Emmy. The only negative is the reliance on Teddy to provide episodes with a coda that feels forced due to the repetition. If they were less frequent, they would have more power. In that sense, the appearances by a homeless Hungarian musician who brings Huff cryptic messages works much better, as they give the show a mysterious edge. The first season of "Huff" brings together these characters in an absolutely incredible story arc, one that takes Huff's family and friends to hell and back, with several intriguing side trips along the way. Though the majority of the episodes are extremely strong, "Christmas is Ruined," is one of the finest. Both sides of Huff's family (with Swoosie Kurtz as his mother-in-law) collide in a holiday battle royale that leaves nerves exposed and raw. It's the beginning of a stretch run that culminates in the excellent finale, "Crazy Nuts & All F**ked Up." From the tense beginning, through a revealing and emotional center, and a wild ending, it leaves you wanting even more. In fact, 'Huff' is one of the most complete series' to make it to the air recently. The 13 first-season episodes of 'Huff' are split over four DVDs, with three on each of the first three discs, and four on the fourth disc. The discs are packed in a pair of slipcased dual-disc ThinPaks, which have episode descriptions and credits for each episode. The DVDs feature animated, anamorphic widescreen main menus based on the show's opening titles, with options to watch all the episodes. Considering how creative the visuals are on 'Huff,' thankfully the anamorphic widescreen transfers for this series are simply brilliant, with beautiful color, a crystal-clear image and a rather high level of detail. Some slight edge enhancement can be seen in spots, but for the most part, this show looks tremendous, without any dirt, damage or digital artifacts. The extras are spread out over the four DVDs, starting with one commentary per disc. The tracks are found on "The Pilot" , "Is She Dead?" (with series creator Bob Lowry and director Scott Winant), and "Crazy Nuts & All F**ked Up" (with Lowry, Winant, Hank Azaria and Oliver Platt). All the tracks have a conversational feel and provide plenty of good info, but, as expected, the final track with the actors is the most interesting and entertaining. A trio of featurettes takes a look at the show's production. "Behind the Therapy is the most robust, clocking in at almost 30 minutes. Interviews with the cast and main crew are mixed with footage from the show to create a pretty good overall look at the series. It's followed by "Character by Design," which looks at the show's art direction, an integral part of the show, and "Lens of Truth," a bit about the way the show is shot. This might be the most interesting, as the look of the series is not accomplished the way one might think. Disc Two also includes six minutes of deleted scenes, including a Huff-Byrd conversation, Beth's cop conflict, and a Russell montage. There's no real context, but the extra content is appreciated. Again, this is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) and comes with the Special Features of:
Commentary on select episodes
"Behind the Therapy" featurette
"Character by Design" featurette
"Lens of Truth" featurette