Thursday, September 9, 2010

How to watch season 1 of In Treatment

At 9 discs and 43 episodes long, the first season of HBO's psychiatric drama series "In Treatment" is a daunting prospect. Add that to the fact that each episode consists of an entire therapy session with one of a recurring set of patients and you've got a show that puts you on notice immediately: this is not light viewing.

But as you follow this simple step-by-step guide and grow accustomed to the format, the investment you make into this American remake of the Israeli show Be'Tipul begins to pay off, in unexpected ways. So whenever your interest in a particular character begins to lag or the entire experience seems to lack reward, refer to the following rules:

1) Ignore Laura
This is hard to do, because they try to make her an important character for such a long time, but it's necessary. Just ignore her. She sucks. She's supposed to be this irresistible cauldron of sexual desirability, but the actress that plays her is neither attractive nor charismatic enough to pull it off. It's one of those cases where it's difficult to tell whether the problem is with the performance or with the writing. Whatever it is, the best thing to do is simply pretend she doesn't exist, especially on a show that is otherwise so brilliant.

2) Skip the episode with Paul's kids
Paul (Gabriel Byrne) is the therapist and main character of the show. We only see him when he's at work, or when he sees his old therapist Gina (Dianne Wiest) at the end of every week. Therapy is the man's life. We don't need to see what he's like as a father. And his daughter is played by Ann from Arrested Development (better known as "Who?" or "Her?"), which makes it hard to take seriously.

3) Watch out for Alex
Tuesday's patient Alex (Blair Underwood) seems like a macho military stereotype at first, so we are fairly blindsided to discover mid-season that we suddenly care more about him than any of the other patients. After killing 17 kids in an air raid and suffering a heart attack by pushing his body to its breaking point while training for a marathon, the man who disdains therapy at first turns out to need it the most. Watch out for him.

4) Enjoy Mia Wasikowska while you can
She plays Sophie, a young gymnast who may or may not have a history of suicide attempts. And she is such a talented young actress that it's only a matter of time before she becomes famous and starts doing crappy romantic comedies for bigger pay. She was already in Alice In Wonderland earlier this year. Her portrayal of a troubled teenage girl is one of the most convincing I've ever seen. Enjoy it while it lasts, because this kind of talent is a rare thing.

5) Give Jake and Amy some time
They seem like a tiresome "bickering couple" at first, with their disagreement over whether to terminate a pregnancy. But as their sessions continue, and especially as they each go one-on-one with Paul, both characters begin to reveal surprising depths, and the actors go to great lengths to make us care about them. In the beginning of the season, I found them to be the least interesting patients, and that did a total 180 for me by the end. In between are all the ups, downs, and middles of any human relationship, until their problems begin to seem universal and extremely sensible. They are both at fault for how far they've fallen as a couple, and yet it's almost as if there's nothing they could've done to avoid it.

6) Try to be patient for the next seasons
This show has got to be a pain in the ass to write and produce, and since it'll never find a large audience there's no pressing demand to make the episodes available right away. But they will be, in time. Just try to wait. It'll be worth it.


Austin said...

0- I don't know if I'll watch it. I've been watching shows lately like Fawlty Towers-12 episodes total, Firefly, 14, Father Ted-6.

But your recommendation makes me curious.

1-Sounds like Laura has "informed ability." I hate informed ability. SHOW DON'T TELL! sigh.

2-Her? She better be funny. Call her Annabell because she's shaped like a -- she's the bell of the ball!

3-From his imbd page, he's been in a Tyler Perry movie. I try to avoid them, as they seem unfunny and appealing to the lowest common denominator: stupid people. But, he's getting so successful I'm starting to sound like a racist for hating on the Madea, so I guess I'll have to give it a chance. Affirmative Action wins again.

4-I loled at your "becomes famous and starts doing crappy romantic comedies for bigger pay" comment. Ain't it the truth? You forgot "eventually butcher her face to look younger" though.

5- Fighting couples are done so much on TV, but I guess it's a necessity. You can't have a perfect couple, they'd be boring. Glad this show manages to breathe life into such an old trope.

6- Being patient for the next seasons is easy when you haven't watched any of them. You've almost persuaded me to watch, but that 43 episodes thing is quite a lot. Well, we'll see.

Jacob I. McMillan said...

Fawlty Towers - awesome
Firefly - awesome, but you already know that
Father Ted - ?

Here's the list of stuff we've been watching:

The West Wing - Great show. One of those things where I don't realize that I missed it until it comes back on. Still can't believe this was on NBC. Look how far they've fallen since then.
Better Off Ted - Funniest comedy since Arrested Development, so of course it's already canceled.
Will and Grace - (no comment)

What is "informed ability?" Tell me and I'll tell you if you're right.

Austin said...

Father Ted= British sitcom from Graham Linehan in the early 90's. Graham Linehan is also known as the creative mastermind behind "The IT Crowd."

Informed Ability is when characters repeatedly state (in repetition) another character's attributes, when that character's actions in no way match up.

A few examples would be Lex Luthor on Smallville. While he was still on the show, it was common practice for the others to criticize what a bad person he is, when they're doing the same thing's they're accusing him of.

On "The West Wing" (though I haven't seen it) TV Tropes gives the example of Josh:

"Josh in The West Wing is supposed to be a political savant. He certainly comes off as absurdly smart, if thoroughly arrogant. But in terms of actually playing politics and running campaigns, he screws up. Frequently."

Robert Langdon in the Da Vinci Code who doesn't understand Latin and can't figure out the fact that da Vinci wrote things backwards.

Bella Swan in Twilight.

Jacob I. McMillan said...

Josh is a huge screw-up on the show, but I don't think it's a case of his intelligence being exaggerated in the first place. It's more about his cockiness and temperamental attitude getting in the way of his work. Bad example. I get the rest of them though.

With Laura, it's more that the actress comes off as someone trying so hard to play the part of the sexy girl, rather than inhabiting the role. So scratch what I said about the writing. It's definitely the actress.