Quirky sitcom pulls laughs from therapist's chair

Actor Matt Watts admits playing the neurotic patient Michael in the new CBC comedy Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays was sometimes an anxiety-causing experience.

Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays shot in Ottawa

Director Don McKellar, left, and actor Bob Martin work on Ottawa-set comedy Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays on June 20. The show debuts Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Actor Matt Watts admits playing the neurotic patient Michael in the new Canadian comedy Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays was sometimes an anxiety-causing experience.

The series about the life of a man undergoing cognitive behavioural therapy hits close to home for 36-year-old Toronto actor, who has himself seen a therapist.

Watts says he debated a long time over taking the role, but welcomed the chance to again work with Don McKellar and Bob Martin, who he has known since he began his career with Twitch City.

The shoot this summer in Ottawa was sometimes "terrifying" he admits, the more so because some of Michael’s phobias — of vomiting, buses and talking to strangers —– are close to his own.

"The whole point of therapy is to embrace fear and learn to deal with it and manage it. This is kind of like the ultimate end point for exposure," he said.

"There were times when I didn’t have to act anxious – I was feeling it," Watts said Tuesday in interview with CBC’s Q cultural affairs show.The element of comedy helps with overcoming that fear, he said, and it helped that he was in the hands of two masters of comedy.

Martin and McKellar have been friends since Grade 10 and collaborated on shows such as Twitch City, Slings & Arrows and stage production The Drowsy Chaperone, which won five Tony Awards in 2006.

McKellar says Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays is less cynical than U.S. comedy hits such as The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

"I did want to do a show that was about real issues with a humane treatment," he said.

"We don’t make fun of people. We don’t put Michael’s character in awkward situations or David’s and then laugh at them. We help them."

Humour emerges from the little anxieties that everyone can identify with and from the progress of the relationship between doctor and patient.

"We don’t see these characters as crazy. It’s really about how we all have these quirky mechanisms and we all have these anxieties and we don’t identify them in ourselves until we see them in someone else," McKellar said.

Martin plays Michael’s therapist David, who is in denial about his own personality quirks, and who enters a downward spiral just as his patient is making headway.

"We don’t actually ridicule therapy.  We try to be extremely accurate with our portrayal of cognitive behavioural therapy," he said, adding that scriptwriters hired a cognitive therapist as consultant. 

"It’s more about how people struggle with the mundane things that become enormous obstacles in their lives – that’s where the comedy lies."

Michael Tuesday’s & Thursdays debuts Wednesday at 9 p.m.(9.30 p.m. NT) on CBC-TV.