"In Treatment," the seductive new drama premiering tonight on HBO, is a big challenge for viewers and TV critics -- or at least for viewers and critics who don't have the daytime drama habit. Like me. ...
The series will air five nights a week, half an hour a night, for several weeks, so just getting through the first week of shows was a 2 1/2-hour commitment, and the first week is devoted mainly to establishing characters and situations.
A therapist (Gabriel Byrne) has sessions with a series of patients, one gathering per night. That is, on Monday's shows he sees a longtime patient with relationship and sexual issues (Melissa George); Tuesdays are tied to a war veteran who was part of a disastrous bombing attack; Wednesdays have a young gymnast who had a recent, near-fatal accident; Thursdays involve a couple facing an unexpected pregnancy, and on Fridays the therapist himself meets with his former supervisor to discuss his own issues.
Over the course of that first week of shows, I had mixed feelings about the different stories; the Monday and Wednesday shows seemed especially compelling, the Thursday tale far less so, and the therapist's own treatment was a fascinating foray into what he had been thinking and feeling during the previous week.
Indeed, by that fifth episode, I was pretty well hooked on the show. But, in trying to get something together for this post, I began skipping around episodes -- following the stories I found most interesting, with the idea of going back to catch up. While it was obvious there were threads running through the series -- such as the therapist's marriage -- I wanted to see what happened with just a selection of the characters first.
Focusing mainly on the gymnast story, I found that approach relatively satisfying. But I felt that way while trying to put aside the idea that I was missing other elements. And my buddy Sepinwall, who spent more time with the series than I did, insisted that I was missing a lot.
So I suppose I should go back at some point and play catch-up when time allows. But I can tell you now that the show works admirably well over that first week. Yes, there is a long history of therapist-using shows on HBO ("Sessions," "The Sopranos," "Tell Me You Love Me") but that doesn't make this one less deserving of your attention. Sure, it's talky. It's mostly about two or three people talking in a room. But it's really good talk, the kind that gets under your skin.