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Monday, 6 August 2012

Review: In Treatment

 I don't usually do television. Not the dramas, at least - a great tv show is usually only as good as a halfway decent movie. I like how the best films reflect on their subject for two hours or so, answer the big questions or maybe pose a few for homework, and bow out gracefully. Next to that, a fifty-hour multi-season arc seems unnecessary. Worse still, keeping things credible despite a neverending flow of melodrama makes tying it all together next to impossible.

But I was too hasty - I'd never seen In Treatment, a smart, original show that makes the most of its format. Most episodes are shot as two-handers between a therapist and his patients, the former played by no less an actor than Gabriel Byrne (if you haven't seen Miller's Crossing, see it even before In Treatment). The actors playing patients are of a high calibre, too - Blair Underwood as Alex is particularly impressive. The show is so focused on its characters that if it weren't for the difficulty of getting audiences into a theatre night after night, it could almost work for the stage. Each episode represents a day of the week, and on Fridays Byrne's character visits his own therapist (Diane Wiest), and reveals to her the fraught emotions lurking below his composure.

What's amazing is how unmelodramatic it is. Despite a cast of characters who are unanimously depressed, sexually confused, or undergoing messy breakups, there is a realism and a respect to the proceedings. That the psychoanalytic subtexts are working is proven by the long discussions Rebecca and I have after each episode, which often run longer than the episodes themselves. I've never been to a therapy session (honestly) so I can't comment on how accurate the depiction really is, but I'd bet the works it puts most police and doctor shows to shame. Throughout the show you get the sense that Byrne's character is a normal, essentially decent human being, whereas a less sensitive show might make him a serial killer, sex addict, or opium fiend for a little extra dramatic juice.

The writing's good enough to make the characters and individual sessions work, but what's really impressive is how closely they're informed by the main story arc. What happened on Monday affects what happens on Tuesday, and you can't wait until it all comes out on Friday. Producer and developer Rodrigo Garcia deserves a lot of credit for his handling of the material, but if you speak Hebrew you might want to start with BeTipul, the Israeli source material for In Treatment.

So I was full of shit, tv didn't end with Kids in the Hall in 1994. I've only seen the first season of In Treatment thus far, but this is one show where I think I'll actually make it through them all. Anyone interested in psychology, exceptional writing for television, or well-acted drama should check it out.

Thanks to Chris for the recommendation!

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