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Huff is a shrink. He drives an expensive car, occupies an expensive, well-tended office and lives in a large expensive house.

The first patient we see in action with him is very troubled indeed -- a despairing gay teenager just coming to terms with both parental rejection and his previous molestation as a young boy.

It isn't easy. He is, as most teenagers are, an emotional blasting cap. He's also struggling with his identity in a dire way that most teenagers aren't.

A stray, almost offhand bit of "tough love" response from Huff detonates him. You're supposed to be trying to understand me, the kid screams at his shrink while pulling out a gun.

Please put the gun down, pleads his psychiatrist.

The kid's answer is to blow his brains all over the shrink's walls, diplomas and face.

That opened "Huff" in week one.

Week two began with another of Huff's patients -- a screaming, needy, manipulative woman played by Lara Flynn Boyle. She's talking to Huff while in police custody -- not exactly the prime location for on-the-spot psychotherapy, as demonstrably needy as that spot therapy clearly is. It seems she's been his patient for eight years and has a long history of forcing him to minister to her at one dramatized moment after another. He's fed up. In a way that doesn't exactly radiate Marcus Welby bedside manner, he suggests the same.

She explodes and tags him with a solid left cross. The ring on her closed fist puts a bloody two-inch gash on his cheek. "Nice ring, you bipolar wack!" he observes.

We're a long way from Dr. Phil.

There are some other things you should know about Huff. His lawyer and best friend is a brilliant and portly sex addict who likes to be spanked and isn't averse to being tied up by hookers, even if they filch his plasma screen TV. And his mother, who lives next door, is a spoiled, wealthy poolside monstrosity who truly believes that life is tough when her son's hispanic maid buys her navel oranges instead of valencias.

Most importantly, you should know this: Huff is played by Hank Azaria, his mother by Blythe Danner and his roly-poly sex-addicted lawyer buddy by Oliver Platt.

That was more than enough for me. Put those people into anything at all and, as John Milton so famously said, I'm there, Dude.

I'm having the strangest time with this show -- which plays at 10 p.m. Sundays on Showtime -- that I've had with anything in years.

I hated the first episode -- the gay kid's office suicide, the miserable mother next door, the homeless Hungarian composer who kept showing up at odd moments looking to Huff for a handout and testing his compassion, the institutionalized schizophrenic brother.

Here, I thought, is the perfect cable-TV downer: a full hour of artificially manipulative, completely unattractive misery among the overprivileged. It was part melodrama, part mordant comedy and all insufferable.

I watched week two anyway. (Azaria, Danner and Platt, you know. I'd probably watch them filet catfish for an hour.)

I think I'm hooked.

Not a good thing, that. Sunday at 10 p.m. is already reserved, at my house, for "Boston Legal," in which a slightly spayed James Spader and an ageless, ceaseless William Shatner duel for an hour to see who can beat David Caruso to have the most decadent line-delivery on television (winner: Spader, perhaps the last fellow on earth you'd want to see your daughter bringing home for Thanksgiving dinner.)

Then again, in the world of modern cable, you get several opportunities to catch up, especially if you are, like some of us, a digital cable subscriber chock full of different Showtime networks.

A perennially interesting subject, that. Poor Showtime -- the Avis to HBO's Premium Channel's Hertz -- keeps plugging away at original series while getting a dismal fraction of the love and respect routine for HBO.

While it's true that nothing new on Showtime ever has the originality of "The Sopranos" or "Six Feet Under" -- not to mention "Deadwood" -- "Huff" is an awfully interesting, if maddening, bit of TV creativity about the trials, tribulations and necessary uncertainties of shrinkdom starring people who are nothing if not worthy.

I don't know whether they actually try harder at Showtime but you have to give them their props, as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow would say: they DO try.