‘In Treatment’: Good To Talk?

"They pay you how much an hour?"

The redoubtable Sebastian Clarke encouraged me finally to indulge my niggling sense I should check out and the lauded HBO TV series In Treatment and take the plunge. The first thing I noticed was the bulk of the DVD set – forty-three episodes on nine discs, no less. The structure of the series is pretty simple – five episodes make up a ‘week’ of show-time, one for every working day in the life of the show’s protagonist, Paul. A therapist to what appear to be a success of wealthy and self-involved screw-ups, Paul listens carefully for four of these episodes – and then, every Friday, visits his own therapist. This actually makes for quite a simple structure, despite its bloat.

I’ve watched just the first week – five episodes of just under thirty minutes. Sebastian Clarke, and much of the writing about the show I’ve seen, must be based on how the season develops, because this first week felt to me stilted and contrived. As Tuesday’s patient, the Navy pilot character played by Blair Underwood is over-written as an outwardly arrogant and aggressive caricature; the meandering session between Paul and Mia Wasikowska’s teen gymnast feels like it treads too much water; even the final session, a two-hander between the great Gabriel Byrne and Dianne West, alas never quite escapes the sense of those Eastenders specials they do occassionally: an acting showcase notable not for its subtelty but its hammy novelty.

‘Addictive’ is the adjective most often attached to In Treatment; I feel no great compulsion to move on to the second week. This is slightly unfair on what amounts to some interesting set-up – in particular, the patient who has fallen in love with Paul, and Josh Charles and Embeth Davidtz as a trouble couple contemplating an abortion, do good work in making the slightly strained situations devised for their characters into something believably and – har de har – psychologically convincing. But, were it not for Gabriel Bryne’s super-humane effort to hold it all together, In Treatment would be as over-wrought and self-satisfied as Paul’s clients.

More soon, no doubt.