In Treatment: The best show on TV?

In Treatment, HBO’s adaptation of award-winning Israeli series Be’Tipul, is a fascinating window into the relationship of a therapist and a patient.

Now, three weeks into its third season, I’d consider it one of the best shows on TV.

The show, which airs four (formerly five) days a week featuring a different patient each day, is unlike any show I’ve ever seen.  It’s utterly exhausting to watch, yet more intimate and well thought out than anything else around.

The interaction between therapist and patient is voyeuristic and addictive. For anyone who’s ever been in therapy, it is somehow validating to see how frustrating and painful the experience can be.  Therapists are annoying – not just when they’re right about something you don’t want to admit to, but when they completely misunderstand what you’re trying to say.  In Treatment is like having a friend in therapy to relate to, without having to give anything of yourself up.  It’s painful, frustrating, emotionally draining, and incredibly comforting all at once.

Gabriel Byrne is Dr. Paul Weston.  He’s consumed by his patients, yet troubled by his own life.  His wife (Michelle Forbes) and kids are mostly neglected, he has daddy issues, and trouble with boundaries.

But what makes the show even more interesting is to see Paul’s sessions with his own therapist Gina (Dianne Wiest) in seasons one and two, and Adele (Amy Ryan) in season three.  Because therapy relationships are so one-sided, patients rarely have any inkling that it really may be a situation of the blind leading the blind.  Therapists are messed up people too.  And as anyone who’s ever given advice to a friend knows, it’s always easier to fix other people’s problems than it is to fix your own.

I started watching the show in reverse order – starting with Season 2 – because it was on TMN and I figured why not?  I was immediately obsessed.

I related strongly to Allison Pill’s character, April, as a young, independent, responsible girl who feels compelled to carry the burden of everyone’s happiness on her shoulders.  She wants to be loved, wants to help, and is incredibly empathic, yet appears tough and cold to outsiders.

The show isn’t perfect, of course. Season one apparently follows Be’Tipul – almost word for word at times – which means that the flaws were adapted.

Paul’s charater in therapy is too angry, and too irrational to be believable – though this gets better as the show progresses.  While it is interesting to see how differently a therapist might act when faced his own problems, I don’t believe he could work as a therapist for so many years without any introspection, or without any understanding of how therapy works or even of the process.   The situation improves in season two, and is off to a good (yet still confrontational) start in season three.

The other major flaw of the show is that the characters in season two very strongly parallel the characters in season one.

Sophie (Mia Wasikowska) and April, though very different story lines, are effectively the same character.  They are young, and Paul reacts and cares for them like they were his daughter (despite not reacting to his own daughter that way).  They both have strong, independent personalities, and are smart yet distrustful.  They both need, or have had the perceived need, of  taking care of themselves because the adults in their lives don’t.  Both also have enormous responsibility at a very young age (Alison Pill with her brother, and Sophie with her gymnastics.

Laura (Melissa George) and Mia (Hope Davis) are desperate for Paul’s attention (can you say “daddy issues”?) yet confrontational –often demanding personal details — in order to feel like they are being heard and validated.

Alex (Blair Underwood) is a navy pilot with a school bombing on his conscience and Walter (John Mahoney)  is a high-powered executive.  Different, right? But they’re both brash and full of bravado, both show people their importance be making people feel unimportant, and neither has any awareness of their feelings yet know deep down that something isn’t right.

Do similar character types matter? Maybe not – not everyone watches TV with such a critical eye, after all.  And the show is still compelling, well written and directed, and completely unique.  But when a show is so close to perfect, I expect more of it.

But even in its worst episodes, In Treatment sure comes close to perfection.  And if the amazing start to season three is an indicator of the rest of the season, you should definitely watch it.

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