Screen savors: Mork on the couch

It must have been a no-brainer for Channel 8 to grab Shrink Rap, a Channel 4 production featuring Dr. Pamela Connolly analyzing the stars.

screen savors 88 (photo credit: )
screen savors 88
(photo credit: )
These days it seems all you need for a TV show is a couch. Since Israel's B'tipul hopped overseas to HBO, returning to our screens as In Therapy (currently airing on Xtra HOT) - not to mention that other HBO series with a shrink The Sopranos - it was clear that head doctors are in. So it must have been a no-brainer for Channel 8 to grab Shrink Rap, a Channel 4 production featuring Dr. Pamela Connolly analyzing the stars. Connolly, who is married to Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, may look familiar from the British satire, Not the Nine O'Clock News, from back when she was Pamela Stephenson. Today, a psychologist with a successful LA practice, it seems that she has created this program based on her knowledge of what a show biz career can do to a person. "Shrink Rap is an attempt to allow people not to be under pressure of performing, not to feel that they have to present the ideal self, the one that is always adorable and perfect and funny and together. This allows people to bring forward the true self, to not always tell the official story," she said in an interview on Channel 4's Web site. We tuned in because we saw Connolly would be interviewing Robin Williams, one of our all-time favorites who has fallen on hard times of late, both professionally and otherwise. We also thought that we'd get a few desperately needed belly laughs, much needed since we had been sleeping in the guest room due to Pessah visitors. Instead we saw something else entirely - a glimpse into Williams' soul and an understanding of what makes him tick. It seems plausible that Connolly slipped Williams something before his appearance. The man was in a particularly introspective mood and, for the most part, absolutely somber during the conversation, which focused on his rather bleak childhood. So, while there were comedic nuggets - Williams riffing on masturbation, complete with a Walter Winchell-themed fantasy - overall, this was more angst than schtick. Williams, we learn, grew up living large parts of his boyhood in the attic of a big house in Michigan where his parents would leave the young Robin alone or with the maid. He was meant to be "seen and not heard," though if heard, then entertaining guests at his parents' parties. Williams spoke of his complicated relationship with his mother, who he desperately wanted to make laugh, and with his father, who inspired fear in the boy with his loud voice when angry. The future comic genius recalled hours spent alone in the attic setting up huge battlefields with myriad toy soldier, a good explanation as to why adult Robin would clamor so for an audience, frantically hopping from one club to the next. Williams described how he found the physical and emotional closeness that he had lacked at home waiting for him in the improv and comedy clubs of America. He didn't hold back in detailing his plunge into drugs and alcohol abuse after the cancellation of Mork and Mindy, describing his initial success as "catching a wave," which crested and then violently hit shore with the program's end. It was all fascinating stuff to see and hear, but was it good television? We're still not sure. Connolly was leading Williams in the direction of analysis, reining in any attempt to break free. She offered statements statements such as, "You've become the funny man your mother always wanted you to be," seemingly in the hopes of leading her "patient's" responses to best fit her analytic aims. Only when talk turned to Williams' early sex life did he momentarily slip free. Granted, this is Connolly's raison d'etre for the program - getting inside the celebs' heads to get an idea as to what's going on in there. On that score, it worked. We learned a great deal about why Williams chose comedy as his craft, asides from, as he explained, it being a babe magnet. Still, at least in this particular session of Shrink Rap, Connolly failed the ultimate test - that of entertaining the viewer. She spent too much time analyzing and not enough letting Williams relax and have fun. She also missed discussing any of his film roles and his reasons for choosing them. The result was by far too dark for our taste. Although, we witnessed a fascinating insight into Williams's psyche, which includes his fear of reaching that age when his "mind will go away." Those who enjoy B'Tipul or In Therapy will undoubtedly enjoy Shrink Rap, too. If you prefer your movie stars glitzy, rather than glummy, then there's always the E! Channel.