Code Drew

I don't blame Dr. Drew for Celebrity Rehab, or anything that has happened on/after it. I should, probably, but 1) jerks like me who watched every episode (and every episode of Sober House as well) didn't help, as far as encouraging the franchise to continue pretending televised therapy could make a substantive difference; 2) this civilian doesn't see what else could reasonably have been done in the case of, say, Jeff Conaway; and 3) Drew Pinsky has always projected an air of confident competence and decency, which makes it hard to believe that he knowingly fucked over any of the sufferers in his care, even if it's obvious in retrospect that the solution to Mike Starr's problems wasn't more camera time. Pinsky is smart, but not that interested in proving he's smarter than his patients; funny, but doesn't go for cheap punchlines; and reassuringly silver-foxy without tipping over into intimidating hotness.

That comforting combo of traits saves Dr. Drew On Call. According to the network's brief on the show, "Driven by current events, 'Dr. Drew' on HLN focuses on the human -- and human behavior -- at the heart of the story." In other words, he and his panel sit around psychoanalyzing the folks at the heart of the day's top stories, so if, like me, you enjoy armchair head-shrinking, it's a lot of fun.

If, un-like me, you don't care for true crime, Dr. Drew is a big-time miss, especially lately, as he and the Freudenklatch spend the bulk of their time on the Jodi Arias case. Particularly given this week's headlines, it's a bit odd that Pinsky and his team of legal and psychological experts chose Arias over the Boston bombings, and the attempt at Pop-Up Video humor in the opening segment's chyrons -- a state witness dryly noting she understands the question while a bright red caption unhelpfully "jokes," "yeah, GOT it" -- isn't a success.

Then again, HLN is more or less The Nancy Grace Network, and what ol' Stiff Bangs cares about, everyone has to care about -- and once you get past the gimmicky split-screens and into the heart of the show, it's got a few good tidbits. Yesterday's ep, for instance, examined how detectives get suspects in general, and borderline personalities specifically, to feel comfortable enough to tell the truth. The panelists discussed what makes an expert witness effective or ineffective, and what subtypes of borderline personality might be expected to commit a crime like Arias's. (Excuse me: "alleged crime." In brief, she's accused of murdering her lover, Travis Alexander.) Is Arias "bad," or mentally ill -- or both?

Pinsky and his experts get just gossipy enough to make it fun, without undermining their own authority in their fields. It's obvious he's invested in the story (viz. a thunderous "Feh!" that greeted the idea that Arias's BPD means she's not responsible for her behavior), and the tricksy stuff like grading witnesses and Dr. Drew's Jury doesn't go on long enough to get annoying. It's a good show to have on in the background while cooking, and covers issues civilians would likely care about better than straight trial-analysis programming.

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