Wednesday, May 09, 2007

In a huff about Huff

Watched the first two episodes of Huff last night and I’m afraid I’m hooked.

I don’t need this.

A show about an outwardly happy and successful middle-aged man coming apart at the seams? Every week we watch as another stitch in Huff’s life pops and more of his stuffing bursts loose?

And he just sort of stands outside himself and watches it happen?

Here’s a guy with a great job he’s very good at. He has a beautiful, loving, sexy wife who looks great in a blue teddy and even better after she wriggles out of it, a condition she enjoys attaining for his sake and more importantly and more erotically exciting for her own; who misses him when she wakes up in the middle of the night and finds he’s not in bed with her; who worries about him; who puts up with his bizarre mother and the rival demands from his clients for his time and attention; who still manages to be an intelligent, talented, successful person in her own right and have a life apart from being his wife. He has a preciously wise and compassionate teenage son who worries about him and tries to be there to take care of him.

Ok. His mother is nuts. And his beloved younger brother is schizophrenic. And his best friend has a self-destructive streak and apparently thinks that the best thing for him to do about it is try to drag Huff along for the downward ride.

But on the whole Huff has it pretty good.

And then all of a sudden he finds himself isolated within his own life. All at once he’s disconnected from everybody and everything that matters to him. He’s batting away attempts from all sides to continue or re-establish those connections that were there and important just a few minutes ago. Nothing he does gives him any sense of satisfaction or accomplishment. Even doing good, helping people, loving them, feels wrong. Whatever decision he makes, feels like the wrong one, except for decisions not to care anymore.

It’s as if Huff has fallen asleep and is dreaming his own life and as if in a dream Huff has no power to affect or control or even interact with what’s happening to him, only to watch. The scary part, to me, though, is that Huff describes what’s going on in exactly the opposite way.

He says he feels as though he’s just woken up from a long dream and now he’s looking around like Rip Van Winkle not recognizing the world he’s supposedly a part of and the people that are supposed to matter to him.

This is scary to me because I think it happens to people all the time.

There are moments when everybody feels as though it’s happened to them. Whole days can go by when it is in fact happening. But then it stops and things go back to normal.

Except, now and then, for some people, it doesn’t stop.

Something terrible happens to Huff and that seems to be what does it to him. But Hank Azaria, who is great as Huff—the whole cast is terrific—has in the few short scenes that precede the tragedy manages to suggest an already rooted restlessness. Huff’s impatient, brusque, even a bit irritable with the first three clients we see him with. They’re annoying him. They are annoying people, but it’s Huff’s job not to be annoyed with the people who come to him for help; his talents include the ability not to be annoyed longer than most of his colleagues can go without being annoyed. Azaria makes us see that the talent is still there but the discipline is going.

The terrible thing is not just the straw the breaks the camel’s back. It happens because the camel’s legs are already coming out from under him.

What I’m saying is that something big and terrible didn’t have to happen to Huff for him to become a stranger in the strange land that is his own life. He was already wandering and he would have wound up there anyway. And that’s how most of us who get into the same strange country will get there. We’ll just wander in.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You Mr Rosewater a character talks about hearing a click go off inside another man. The click is the sound of whatever demonic engines inside him that drove him to be what he was shutting down.

You're to this man. You've known him twenty years. You're working along and all of sudden you hear this click from him. You turn to look at him. He's stopped working. He's all calmed down. He looks real dumb. He looks real sweet. You look in his eyes and the secrets are gone. He can't even tell you his name right then. He goes back to work, but he'll never be the same. That thing that bothered him so will never click on again. It's dead, it's dead. And that part of that man's life where he had to be a certain crazy way, that's done!

That certain crazy way we all have to be, that’s us, it’s our self and all that self was connected to and cared about.

There’s a hopeful side of this. People who are living bad lives, who are destructive or self-destructive, who are trapped in miseries of their own devising or who have been trapped by others, can suddenly wake up and see their way out. The strange land they wander into is reality or a happier reality than the one they’ve been living in.

But that’s not what happens to Huff and it’s not what I’m afraid of happening to me or to people I know and love.

Which is why I don’t need to become addicted to a show that’s going to have me constantly on the alert, listening for the awful sound of that click.

I may be saved by the fact that Huff was not picked up for a third season. There’s no point in sticking with it through to the end of Season Two, which ends in an emotional cliffhanger for Huff and his wife Beth, if there’s no conclusion to watch.

I might as well give it up right now.

I don't need it. Or anything like it.

But I’m afraid I’m going to be drawn back in.

By Azaria.

By the one actress I've always been nuttier about than I'm nutty about her daughter Gwyneth, Blythe Danner, as Huff’s impossible mother.

By Andy Comeau as his brother.

By the wonderful Oliver Platt as Huff’s self-destructive pal Russell, a brilliant but unscrupulous attorney who is as much fun to watch at his worst as he is at his best.

By Paget Brewster as Huff’s wife Beth---by her performance and by the promise of her continued wrigglings out of various colored teddies and lingerie.

Something else I don’t need, as you know, if you read yesterday morning’s post.


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