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On the Couch: Memorable TV & Movie Therapists

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Pop culture and therapy are an amazingly good match. First of all, most worthy comedies and dramas are populated with people facing sizable problems. Secondly, introducing a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker cuts to the heart of the matter without special effects or car chases. It also makes for insightful writing and acting.

LORRAINE BRACCO IN “THE SOPRANOS”

Lorraine Bracco was as crucial to the success of “The Sopranos” as the sex and violence that punctuated the show. Dr. Melfi’s sessions with Tony brought clarity to the proceedings and had an electrifying intimacy separate from everything else.

BOB NEWHART IN “THE BOB NEWHART SHOW”

I have a feeling Newhart’s portrayal of psychologist Robert Hartley was more accurate than most TV and movie therapists. He used jargon, he rarely raised his voice and he kept incredibly regular office hours. Thank goodness he also treated the occasional clown.

ROBIN WILLIAMS IN “GOOD WILL HUNTING”

Not everyone is a fan of Williams as the feisty therapist helping Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting.” I liked his performance; I thought it had tons of heart and soul. How do you like them apples?

MARIAH CAREY IN “PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PUSH’ BY SAPPHIRE”

It’s easy to lose sight of just how good Carey is as the social worker in “Precious.” She’s as tough as she needs to be in a film about hope in the face of brutal reality. Is there anything in this world more courageous than standing up for an abused kid? An amazing job.

JUDD HIRSCH IN “ORDINARY PEOPLE”

This fine performance is central to the effectiveness of 1980’s Oscar-winning “Ordinary People.” Hirsch’s scenes with a young Timothy Hutton have a real urgency to them, while noting the limitations and boundaries of the doctor-patient relationship.

LISA KUDROW IN “WEB THERAPY”

Lisa Kudrow is a master at delivering the disarming remark. She did it to perfection on “Friends” and she continues it on “Web Therapy.” As highly-flawed Dr. Fiona Wallice, Kudrow levels her snark on everyone, including herself.

STEVE CARELL IN “HOPE SPRINGS”

For such a skilled comic actor, it’s surprising how good Carell is at playing a subdued character. This is a great quality for his therapist in “Hope Springs.” He’s patient, probing and decent, without being boring.

ALLAN ARBUS IN “M*A*S*H”

Allan Arbus was always a welcome sight on “M*A*S*H,” as psychiatrist Sidney Freedman. Funny and fatigued as that character was, his appearances never failed to remind viewers of the insanity of war.

JOANNE WOODWARD IN “SYBIL”

Joanne Woodward brought a wonderful sense of authority and humanity to her part in “Sybil.” Sally Field, as a woman with multiple personalities, had the showier role, but Woodward had to give the whole thing plausibility.

KELSEY GRAMMER IN “FRASIER”

I doubt that any actual therapist has as soothing a voice as Kelsey Grammer. On “Frasier,” he offered a tour de force of comical compassion, without hiding the quirky side of the people giving the treatment.

HELEN HUNT IN “THE SESSIONS”

Helen Hunt is her usual, decent-but-intense self in “The Sessions.” She plays a sex therapist here, and much has been made of her willingness to bare everything onscreen. I thought her most revealing scene was in a car in a motel parking lot, fully clothed.

RICHARD BURTON IN “EQUUS”

In “Equus,” Burton is a doctor treating a very disturbed young man who has blinded several horses. What unfolds during their sessions is a deep well of guilt, trauma, religion and sex. As you’d expect, Burton brings heaps of dramatic heft to the part, for which he earned an Oscar nomination.

DYLAN McDERMOTT IN “AMERICAN HORROR STORY”

Worst. Therapist. Ever. I don’t know where this joker went to school, but I’m pretty sure they tell you on the very first day, “Don’t have sex with patients who are ghosts.”

JANE LYNCH IN “TWO AND A HALF MEN”

As Charlie Sheen’s therapist on TV’s “Two and a Half Men,” Lynch was able to talk tough, but also be sympathetic. It was a clever way to reveal Sheen’s – I mean the character’s – insecurities and motivations.

BILLY CRYSTAL IN “ANALYZE THIS”

Light fare, to be sure, but Crystal generated very solid laughs as a shrink forced to work with a mobster in “Analyze This.” He clearly loved being in a film with Robert DeNiro, who was in full self-parody mode.

J.K. SIMMONS IN “LAW AND ORDER”

What a superb job Simmons did with this small, occasional role as a psychiatrist who sometimes testifies in court cases on the various “Law and Order” shows. He was calm, yet razor-sharp in his scenes evaluating suspects and victims; he could seem jaded and cynical, yet also honest and hardworking.

ANNA KENDRICK IN “50/50”

Therapists have to start somewhere, right? It was brilliant to have Anna Kendrick as the inexperienced caregiver to cancer patient Joseph Gordon-Levitt. It flipped the normal power dynamic and felt much more real.

RICHARD DREYFUSS IN “WHAT ABOUT BOB?”

This movie about a therapist (Dreyfuss) who can’t get away from a patient (Bill Murray) has many devoted fans. Dreyfuss gamely gives in to the rising exasperation the part calls for, which is why it works so well.

BRUCE WILLIS IN “THE SIXTH SENSE”

What I often like about Bruce Willis is his ability to be very still. It comes in quite handy in “The Sixth Sense,” where he’s trying to help Haley Joel Osment deal with a … tricky situation. Willis listens with a thoughtful intensity.

GABRIEL BYRNE IN “IN TREATMENT”

“In Treatment” isn’t simply a great TV show about therapy; I think it’s one of the best shows ever. Byrne plays Dr. Paul Weston, whose patients range from a cancer patient and a troubled businessman to a little boy caught in the middle of his parents’ divorce. Each season, the show tracked the progress of several patients, session by session. Byrne is astonishing, as is the delicate-yet-powerful writing.

But I see our time is up. I didn’t even get to the therapists in “Annie Hall,” “Mad Men” or “The Prince of Tides.” Which are your favorites?

My Favorite TV Hangouts

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It’s no secret that we form sentimental attachments to our favorite TV characters. But we also become fond of the places those characters go to socialize. For me, they include bars, malt shops, diners and way too many coffee shops.

FLOYD’S BARBER SHOP

Mayberry wouldn’t have been nearly so entertaining without Floyd’s Barber Shop, where town luminaries such as Sheriff Taylor, Deputy Fife and Gomer Pyle caught up on the latest gossip with Floyd (Howard McNear). I loved Floyd’s spacey, vaguely disapproving manner on “The Andy Griffith Show.” I also loved Eugene Levy’s send-up of Floyd on the old SCTV show.

CENTRAL PERK

This was the perfect place for the cast of “Friends” to spend quality time. Coffee shops were just coming into their own as hipster meeting spots, which fit the vibe of the show. One thing did bother me: how did this same group of friends ALWAYS get the good couch?

MOE’S TAVERN

As animated dive bars go, Moe’s Tavern on “The Simpsons” is the best there is. Moe himself, voiced by Hank Azaria, is a hoot and a half. His place is Homer’s safe haven and the launching pad for some great prank phone calls (“Al Coholic? Is there an Al Coholic here?”)

SATRIALE’S PORK STORE

This place, one of several hangouts for the thugs on “The Sopranos,” absolutely reeked of authenticity. That’s because it’s a real pork store in New Jersey. Also, my apologies to those hoping this List would include the Bada Bing.

CAFE NERVOSA

More coffee here, this one from “Frasier.” Cafe Nervosa was upscale and classy, in keeping with the tone of urbane wit that Kelsey Grammer & Co. maintained.

LONG BRANCH SALOON

No one would ever accuse the Long Branch, from “Gunsmoke,” of being a realistic depiction of a saloon in the old west. I suspect the saloons on “Deadwood” were a lot closer to the real thing. Yet it proved to be home sweet home for Marshal Matt Dillon – thanks to the ever-patient Miss Kitty.

KARAOKE BAR ON THE NEWSROOM

What seems like an odd locale for the news folk on “The Newsroom” to choose as a hangout is actually very smart. The karaoke bar (if someone knows the name, please let me know) is sleek and flashy, just like the show. It’s also kind of pleasantly goofy, just like the show. It works.

ARNOLD’S

“Happy Days” wasn’t one of my favorite shows, but I loved the local burger joint, Arnold’s. It looked the way a 1950s teen hangout was supposed to look, right down to the jukebox and booths. There’s only one TV teen hangout I like better…

THE SHAKE SHOP

“The Patty Duke Show” wasn’t trying to rekindle nostalgic memories of an earlier era; it was part of youth culture. It just happened to be centered around a ridiculous premise about identical cousins. The local malt shop was the scene of much action. Viva la Shake Shop!

DOC MAGOO’S

Doc Magoo’s was the dive diner a block away from the hospital on “ER.” As with so many of the places on this List, it reflects something important about the show itself. The characters on “ER” had no lives outside of the hospital, for the most part. They put love, family and even food on the back burner, reducing their meals to something they could run and get down the street from work.

MACLAREN’S PUB

Another shrewd choice of place. “How I Met Your Mother,” like many sitcoms, is about building your own family of people who care about you. This pub, with its cozy booths, warm brown tables and unending stream of attractive visitors, is just the right spot.

TEN FORWARD

Even intergalactic explorers need a place to unwind. On “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” that place was Ten Forward, the Enterprise’s very own bar. Whoopi Goldberg was the proprietor. Best. Romulan. Ale. Ever.

BAR ON RESCUE ME

“Rescue Me” was all about personal demons: alcohol, guilt, you name it. What better place to work on some of those issues than a New York City bar? At its best, this show was an absolute gem, with several incredible scenes set in the tavern owned by the guys from the firehouse.

BOSTON LEGAL ROOFTOP

In all weather and states of being, James Spader and William Shatner made beautiful music together on their law firm’s rooftop on “Boston Legal.” These scenes came to be the real soul of the series. That’s what a great hangout is for, frankly. It’s a place to confide, regale and bask in the glow of belonging.

MONK’S DINER

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think there’s any question that this coffee shop on “Seinfeld” is the best TV hangout of all time. It’s where George told the blowhole story, for crying out loud! And the place serves up a fine Big Salad. Monk’s was something special in a show about nothing.

Of course, this is all a matter of opinion. Which TV hangouts do you like best?