One of the things that made the Sopranos so successful was the Tony Sopranos sessions with his psychologist. People talking about their problems with psychologists are almost always fascinating…at least on TV.
In Treatment takes this idea to a new level. The half hour show from HBO follows one psychologist over the course of nine weeks with four patients. Each week, each patient has one episode with a bit of overlap. On the fifth day, the psychologist goes to see his psychologist. There’s no way in hell I would have watched this show if it weren’t for the guy playing the lead psychologist.
Gabriel Byrne plays Paul, the tormented and talented psychologist. Byrne is one of those actors who is riveting just by sitting and staring, which is good, because he does that a lot in this series. I think the first time I noticed Byrne was when he played Keaton in The Usual Suspects. He’s very good at playing the uncomfortable tough bastard. He looks like he’s lived a hard life. He looks like someone who might know something we don’t and so he’s the perfect counselor. He’s the sort of guy you’d want to get advice from.
The week begins with Laura. Laura, played by Melissa George, is a young hot thing with issues. One of her biggest issues is that she’s in love with Paul. Whether or not he feels the same way becomes one of the major plot points of the entire season. Listening to her latest sexual escapades makes for good television, but at the same time, right around week three I knew where this storyline was headed.
Tuesdays are with Navy Pilot Alex (Blaire Underwood). Alex is a perfectionist and a serious military man who doesn’t like having all these pesky feelings and whatnot. He’s entertaining as hell because he doesn’t really want to be there, but at the same time feels like he needs to be. This was probably my favorite storyline just because these two actors are fun to watch.
Wednesdays Mia Wasikowska plays Sofie, the sexually abused and suicidal 16-year-old gymnast. Like Laura, it’s fairly obvious where her storyline is going to go, but watching her get there is impressive. Again the acting is what makes it worth watching and the writing isn’t bad either.
Thursdays Josh Charles and Embeth Davidtz are the horribly screwed up couple Jake & Amy. This storyline is probably the most interesting and the whole time you end up feeling like you’re glad not to be in a relationship that screwed up.
Fridays Paul switches it up and goes to see his own shrink, Gina (Diane Wiest). Throughout the week we get bits and pieces of Paul’s life, including his wife Kate (Michelle Forbes). Paul has a history with Gina that is frequently hinted at and it’s clear that while he often disagrees with her, he respects her.
I like that HBO took a chance on airing a half hour show five days a week for nine weeks. And since the show is 80% on one set, production costs were probably still fairly low. The only major problem with the show is that while its first season is almost twenty hours, I can’t imagine spending that amount of time watching it twice. It’s good and entertaining and I watched all 43 episodes, but once I was done, I was done. And this is coming from a guy who has watched the first season of West Wing four or five times. I’m a big fan of good dialog and good acting and while this is good, it’s just not that good.
HBO is continuing to put out some of the best television out there and this is better than just about any other half hour show currently airing, but at the end I didn’t feel like the sum of it was more than its parts. I didn’t get that amazing feeling I got when I watched the first season of The Wire. I got the feeling I had when I watched the first season of Grey’s Anatomy: It wasn’t a waste of time, but it would be the second time around.