Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In Treatment

I'm so tired. It's 2am, but I've got to talk to you. I've got to Talk Things Through.

This is my problem: if I know something, I take it for granted that you do too and that in fact you've always known it. I'm not 100% sure how I square this with my job as a journalist or in the delight I have when I find out something and want to rush up to you with the news like a puppy.

This time, I'm pretty sure you don't know anything about In Treatment. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you'll have seen me obsessing about it but otherwise, you're probably blank. That's because it's an American TV show that has never aired in the UK. Plus, I do follow US TV, I read about the pilots and the upfronts and the network presentations, and still I missed this
until it came out on US DVD about three weeks ago. Actually, I didn't even notice it then: I stumbled across an article online that mentioned it enough to intrigue me and then I read more and more until I ordered the DVD.

I want you to buy it too. No, really I think I want BBC4 to buy the series: it would be perfect for that favourite channel of mine. And here's why.

In Treatment is a HBO series that last year was made up of 43 half-hour episodes, each one of which was a single session of therapy with Gabrielle Byrne as the therapist, Paul. Each Monday night HBO showed his session with Laura (Melissa George). Tuesdays were Alex (Blair Underwood). Wednesdays were Sophie (an incredible Mia Wasikowska), on Thursdays he did couples' counselling with Jake and Amy (Josh Charles and Embeth Davidtz). Every Friday night, you'd see Paul meeting with his own therapist, Gina (Diane Wiest). Next week, it all starts over again.

The entire half hour is the therapist and his patient or on Thursday his patients, plural. No one else, at least not often. It's all talking heads and very often not talking heads: long stretches where no one talks at all. If I have one criticism, it's that very often when the patient leaves the room at the end of the episode, I found myself feeling for the actor. Not the character who'd been through this session but the actor who had performed such an intense and difficult role. That's not to say I didn't feel for the characters. Sophie is a particular worry: I was as concerned for her as if she were real. There's one patient I really didn't like but when a bad thing happens to him, I felt - and still feel - upset.

Still, talking heads for 43 half-hour episodes. And not many talking heads. And sometimes talking heads not talking. Plus this repetitive thing of each Monday being Laura and so on. I think it sounds tough going, I think it could even sound boringly rigid and the truth is that the series goes to every length and trick it can to break up the rhythms and surprise you. For instance, one Thursday session with Jake and Amy ends after five minutes: you entirely understand why they're leaving early but you can't believe it, you can't believe the episode is going to fill its remaining 25 minutes or whatever it is. And the time is filled to perfection.

So there are these stunts, these gags and in fact one episode takes place entirely away from the therapy room. Only, the show's many, many tremendously powerful moments are when it doesn't do any tricks, when it is precisely what it claims to be and is just allowing one human being to tell a story.

And the rigidity of the format doesn't constrain the show, it makes it entirely compelling. I watched it on DVD so I could just keep on watching whenever I could, but still there was a compulsive rigidity to knowing who the next episode is about. At first, you know Paul's going to his own shrink at the end of the week, so you're terribly curious to see what he has to say about these patients you've been following. Then you start to see what the patients do to him is echoed in what he does with other patients: whether he likes it or not, Paul the therapist is being affected by these patients.

He's especially affected by one of them. I don't want to reveal, but I do want to celebrate so allow me to just say that it's no chance the entire season begins with a Monday session with Laura. What happens there punches throughout the season.

More, at least two patient stories suddenly overlap, perhaps 15 or 20 episodes in. Then the compulsion is turned into addiction: you cannot, cannot, just cannot watch one patient recounting a date without demanding to see the next episode with the other patient telling the same story. Every thing you've just imagined about how different the tales are is exactly right, and the drama of that is beautifully exploited, but each patient is also dating the other for different, sometimes conflicting reasons. Then there's Paul and his therapist on Friday: what will he be saying about this pair? And why is he lying about them too?

Sometimes the next episode is a little tease, a way of holding you up before you get to the next week and the next part of one particular patient's story. In America, In Treatment is on iTunes and as well as choosing to buy individual episodes or an entire season, you have the option to just buy Laura's Story. Or Sophie's. And so on. If you have the chance to buy it over iTunes, do not take these options: buy the season. Whichever patient interests you the most, you learn more about them from watching the whole thing.

I have never been busier than I am right now. So much going on, so many drama projects I've tended to for a long time are now alive and taking every spare second I've got. But it's 14 days since I watched my first episode of In Treatment and tonight, about 1am after a 6am start and a drive to and from London, I watched the last one. Forty-three episodes in two weeks. Tell me it's not compulsive.

The second season is now underway in America: Gabrielle Byrne is back as Paul but I believe at least most of the patients are new. I know for certain that John Mahoney plays one of them: don't you immediately know that's going to be great?

There is a difference this year. Instead of one half hour each weeknight, HBO is bunching episodes together: I think it's two one night, three the next. I'm not sure why that disappoints me since I've been racing through, but it does feel like a compromise to get ratings.

You need to know a couple of things and I need to tell you some, too. Starting with Be'Tipul. This is the original Isreali series that HBO adapted for America; you can find some clips on YouTube. It has a beautiful title sequence but as yet I've not been able to follow anything else. But speaking of YouTube, there are some short promo features about the show: here's the one about Sophie.

And last, In Treatment is on US DVD. If you can play American discs, you've probably got a preferred supplier but for once try Amazon.co.uk. After weighing up the postage costs and retail prices, I decided to skip my usual dvdpacific.com and even the American Amazon to instead buy it via the UK Amazon site. It'll cost you around £30.

Or you could wait for a UK broadcaster to pick it up. Waiting is good. I'm telling myself that waiting is good because the second season DVD presumably won't be out until at least that second season has finished airing in the States. It's been running for two weeks, they're ten episodes in. It's going to be months before I can carry on watching.

It's going to be a hard couple of months. I'd best try writing my own immensely intense dramas in the meantime.



Stella said...

I'm really interested in your take on Season Two, if you are watching it. And I appreciate your enthusiasm for the writers. There would not be a show without them, which is true for any series but double that whammy for In Treatment!

PS. It is GABRIEL Byrne. He's an Irish guy, not a French hottie. ;-)

William Gallagher said...

Eeek. How many times have I seen Gabriel Byrne's name on screen in the last few weeks? Well, about 50, in fact. Thank you!

All I know about season 2 is that our mate Gabby has a severe haircut and that certain of the problems from season 1 have continued on. Like the situation with Alex, said William trying not to spoil anything.

Are you watching it? Is it true that it's still good?


Lozzie Cap said...

I did it. I bought the DVD. I know you're proud of me.

I've been watching season two on-line, with every intention of also buying the DVD when it is released. I've been enjoying the episodes, especially Walter and Oliver, scenes with the both of whom have had me in tears. You're probably going to ask me WHY I enjoy television that makes me cry. Am I a masochist? no, don't think so. Just a human being.

William Gallagher said...

You're watching season 2 first? I can think of three gigantic issues that spoils for you. Like Alex, like - best not say anything more.

From the bits I've seen it's going to be April for me in the second season, just as it was Sophie who most affected me in the first. Same writer, incidentally: Sarah Treem.

Lozzie Cap said...

No, I have seen a fair percentage of Season One here and there on t'internet. Yes, Alex - and oh gosh, Laura.

And did you cry when you watched it?

William Gallagher said...



Lozzie Cap said...

Uh ... well ... you know. If you aver wanna talk about that, I'm here. I'm a good listener.

William Gallagher said...

I'm just wondering, when you say that to me, what are you feeling?

Are there perhaps incidents in your fan fiction that are coming to the surface?

Unfortunately we're out of time.

Lozzie Cap said...

<-- See icon: I'm hooked, and for once I don't blame my mother. It's all YOUR fault :-D

Lozzie Cap said...

Oh sorry, icon is on other side. Damn Blogger -->