TV programs like The Sopranos helped turn talk therapy into entertainment. Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) counseled an unlikely patient named Tony Soprano played by James Gandolfini, a mob boss who was highly selective about which parts of his life his therapist was allowed to scrutinize. The award-winning HBO drama In Treatment, which just aired its Season 2 finale and was adapted from BeTipul, the Israeli TV series by Hagai Levi and Rodrigo Garcia, is nothing but therapy. It stages weekly half-hour sessions between therapist Paul Weston, played with nuance by Gabriel Byrne, and each of his four patients, including Paul’s session with his long-time mentor Gina, played to the max by Dianne Wiest.
If therapy sounds dull, prepare to be surprised. As viewers we are flies on the wall in a setting as physically comfortable as psychologically unsettling. Because what happens in the therapy room is a sometimes volatile process of probing for truth that patients don’t want to hear, where the therapist can never get thrown off his game.
Paul is as skilled as he is vulnerable. The way he fidgets with his pen and pokes his tongue around in his cheek reveals a boyish self-consciousness. Paul’s weakness is that he feels too responsible for other people’s lives. And his challenge is keeping his professional relationship in check while his patients challenge him every step of the way. Here is the roster for Season One, which debuted in January 2008 and is now on DVD.
Laura (Melissa George) is a beautiful and oversexed anesthesiologist who is infatuated with Paul and insists they should be together. Alex (Blair Underwood) is a Navy pilot recovering from a traumatic mission who wants therapy on his own terms. Sophie (Mia Wasikowska) is a teenage gymnast with anorexia and abandonment issues who rebels against Paul the way she rebels against everyone. Jake (Josh Charles) and Amy (Embeth Davidtz) seek advice for their surprise pregnancy and rocky marriage, and each tries to position Paul against the other. And Gina is therapist to Paul, whose own turmoil makes him the toughest patient of all.
In Treatment is high-octane drama, rich with conflict and the complexity of being human. The casting and directing are superb and the performances convincing, especially Gabriel Byrne as the classic middle-aged therapist struggling with his own marital problems and self-worth.
In addition to offering compelling entertainment, this series reveals something we all share in common. That whatever our goals, dreams, or frustrations, we are constantly tangling with the snags of life in all its shapes and sizes in order to keep moving forward. And while we may not turn to therapy, there’s a universal constant that’s part of being alive. It’s the process of finding our way. A
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