So, let’s say you have an actor the caliber of Mark Ruffalo as the lead in a dual role as identical twins. One is a hotheaded guy who will get a lot more screentime, and the other is his paranoid schizophrenic brother. You need an actor who can stand up to him in a scene in a definitive way that will get his hothead character to shut up, calm down, and listen. Such an actor needs to be tough and no nonsense. It has to be believable that Dominick Birdsey will listen to this person. Who has that level of toughness?
Would you believe Rosie O’Donnell?
Yes, Rosie O’Donnell as Lisa Sheffer, case worker for Thomas at the mental home for the criminally insane, is the one who has to sit there, look bluntly unimpressed, and then stand up to Dominick. It’s easy to forget that before O’Donnell was Donald Trump’s favorite celebrity punching bag or when she joined The View that she was an easily star-struck stand-up comedian and talk show host nicknamed “The Queen of Nice”. That is who this series cast as Sheffer, the one character in the entire novel who can toss hard reality at Dominick in a way that actually makes him shut up and listen while never once sugarcoating things.
Quite frankly, it works. Maybe it was her time on The View, but O’Donnell’s Sheffer sits there, injects some hard truths in to correct Dominick’s false assumptions about Thomas’s situation, and never batts an eye, even as Dominick continues to rain abuse. Contrast Sheffer with, well, everyone else that becomes if not a target than at least a witness to Dominick’s temper and you can easily see the difference. His ex-wife Dessa seems to be too sweet and mild mannered to interject much. The psychiatrist Dominick sees, Dr. Patel, is professional about the whole thing, gradually drawing out Dominick’s own side to things–the best part of the Patel storyline from the novel and from the looks of things here is that she’s really giving Dominick some much needed therapy–and as for his much younger, live-in girlfriend Joy…well, that isn’t a stable relationship to begin with.
I was always rather impressed by Lisa Sheffer in the novel.
That said, it has been quite some time since I read the book, so I don’t recall if they gave out the reason for Dominick and Dessa’s divorce this early. We get a little bit here, how Dessa’s father apparently still thinks well of him, but then the flashback hits, and we get the hard hit of Dominick and Dessa’s losing an infant daughter to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, how both of them were traumatized by it, but Dominick’s way of dealing with things was to internalize it all (no doubt a big cause of his temper when he can’t hold something in anymore), and when Dessa needed him, specifically to take a trip to Greece to recover…he didn’t go.
Point is, while I remember how all this ends, this is at least a very sad story to start, and Dominick’s growth and change over the course of this story is what really makes it what it is. However, part of the problem is Dominick, at least at this point, doesn’t see why he is the one who maybe needs some help. Thomas needs help, sure, but Dominick didn’t exactly get through life with his mother dead, his brother mentally ill, his daughter dead, and the love of his life gone with someone else while he (and probably she) still have some deep feelings for each other without some issues of his own.
However, this is really a slow burn story, and thus far, I am mostly impressed by the casting. Whether or not this show can stick the landing, well, I look forward to finding out.