Season 1: Not the easiest sell but really well written and acted throughout – which is what makes it so engaging
The show In Treatment is not the most appealing show when you sum it up into a couple of lines. Other HBO offerings such as Sopranos and Sex & The City make for much easier promotion and, in fairness, viewing. The concept here is that we follow Dr Paul Weston in his sessions with four patients Monday – Thursday and then finish the week with himself in treatment with his own therapist. On TV the show ran nightly on weekdays in line with the day of the sessions and each 30 minute episode rarely moves outside of one room. Did I mention that the season is also 40+ episodes long? So in essence it is a show where people sit in one room talking about their problems for 30 minutes and this occurs nightly for just over two months. Are you pumped up and excited yet? No, you're probably not and while many here will look down their noses at you and suggest that "this type of thing is not for you", I have to say that I understand because there is so much television available that is "easy" to watch and enjoyable, it is too tempting to settle into this and ignore something that, on the face of it, appears to be alienating and difficult. However as you start getting into the show, In Treatment does really engage.
This won't happen right away because the structure of daily sessions (which I like) does mean that even after a couple of weeks of viewing the show, you've still only spent about an hour in the company of any one patient. It also "hurts" in a way that some of these patients will appeal to you more than others. For me Alex's sessions were the hardest to care about whereas I was always keen to get to the next session with Sophie. So the time when you find yourself engaged in the show will differ per character but ultimately you will become interested in each simply because the show is very well written and very well acted.
A note on this though because again, if you condense this show down to a few sentences then it will only sound pat and obvious. There are narrative twists and turns but mostly the developments and formative events are not plucked from the sky, they fit the character and they make sense. Looking back on them perhaps it is possible to see them as "obvious" and for sure those coming to this show for "developments" or "action" may well think "I spent all this time to get to THAT?", but they will be missing the point because the show is less about "how does it end" than it is about the journey to get there.
The writers understand this and each episode works because of how well scripted it is. The journey is never pat, the reactions of the characters are rarely unrealistic or done to make the narrative flow. Some are more fascinating than others but all are interesting and become more so as their sessions and lives progress. The cast do justice to the script they are given. Byrne is great. At times it seems has little to do in an episode but as the season progresses his small touches are as important as his own "session" where he has the chance to emote more. Taking the sessions in order, I didn't always like Melissa George's sessions but she was pretty strong in her character. Underwood took me a while to start to like as a character but again his performance was convincing throughout. As everyone has noted, Wasikowska is the standout. Partly this is due to her age but this is not to take away from how natural her performance is, how flowing and how convincing it is – her sessions are by far the most engaging because of how good she is. Charles and Davidtz are difficult at first but as their sessions progress you realise how good both of them are. I don't think Wiest has much of a chance to shine on the Friday but she is OK – difficult when both Byrne and Forbes are the focal point of that episode. Turman (The Wire's Mayor Royce) may not have a lot of time but he is excellent.
In Treatment is a strong show but it is not one that makes for easy, casual viewing. This is not to suggest that it is an effort to watch (it is not) but just that it does require attention and watching it is not about "the answer" or the conclusion but rather enjoying the journey in each of the sessions. Fortunately the writing and the acting are so consistently good that this is more than enough reason to watch. Its format and concept will mean it never competes with some of HBO's more flashy and high-profile shows, but In Treatment has class and quality in depth and is well worth making the commitment to.
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