‘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.


4 thoughts on “‘In Treatment’: Good To Talk?

  1. Dan Milburn says:

    Pedant: That’s Dianne Wiest.

    I haven’t seen it, but I have a strong suspicion that it isn’t as good as Help, which unfortunately only got a single series as Chris Langham was arrested shortly before they made the second one..

  2. Hey Dan,

    I can see where you’re coming from with some of your criticism. I think some of this is subjective, however. I agree that the character of the navy pilot is ‘outwardly arrogant and aggressive’ but I disagree that he’s a caricature (I have a feeling, though based on what you said you might really dislike where his story is going). The gymnast story I certainly think gets better as you go along, that been said I think both her and the Alex first week episodes are very well written pieces of television.
    This is where it gets subjective. I don’t mind how self involved some of the characters are; given the premise I sort of expect it. I also agree that this show is not to subtle, again I think the setting allow’s it that (that’s not to say therapy can’t be subtle; I simply mean the setting allows the writer to be less subtle than otherwise, if they wish) . Also, in my blog I made many remarks to the melodrama/soap elemants of the show, which I personally enjoy. I would never put it up there with Mad Men or the West Wing but neither would I put it in the same box as Brother and sisters or desperate houswives, enjoyable but lesser drama.
    I don’t need my drama to be overly ‘realist’. Sometimes all I need is a compelling, well structered half hour/hour, Witty dialogue and characters I want to spend time with. ‘In Treatment’ provided me with just that. Forgive me if I steered you wrong! (Although hang in there and see it through)


  3. danhartland says:

    I think some of this is subjective, however.

    Oh, no – all of it is subjective! You’re right that soap and melodrama seems part of the whole package. My main problem is that the setting doesn’t allow a lack of subtelty: people are hopefully more honest in a therapy session, sure; but their issues are not telegraphed, the therapist is not some seer in whose favour the whole encounter is weighted. The show needs to be a little more careful than that.

    But don’t worry about misleading … I’m happy to watch at last, and would have eventually even without you. More updates soon…

  4. We saw that with Tony Soprano’s therapist as well; sessions with Tony and then sessions with her own therapist in which she spent most of her time talking about Tony and their sessions.

    Love, c.

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