Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The talking cure

Mark Wahlberg’s shrink drama may drive you back to real life

Posted on Wed, Feb 6, 2008 at 4:00 AM

click to enlarge screens_intreatment.jpg
In Treatment
Release Date: 2008-02-06
Website: http://www.hbo.com/intreatment/
Rated: NONE
Genre: Drama

This suggestion is far out, to be sure, but you know what you might consider doing instead of watching In Treatment five nights a week? Having a conversation with another human being.

The HBO concept show based on Israel’s BeTipul sure sounded sexy at first — Monday through Thursday we get to observe Gabriel
Byrne’s therapist Paul having a single session with one or two of five patients (there’s a couple) at his home practice; on Friday we watch Paul’s session with his shrink (played by the inimitable Dianne Wiest) — I mean, who didn’t love the Tony-Melfi-Kupferberg relationships in The Sopranos, right?

But those relationships were a microcosm of a larger, richer world, and pared down here, the conceit is just kind of painful. The concept is a two-edged sword: To like In Treatment, you have to actually enjoy hearing people talk out their problems. I happen to, but because of that fact, this show offers me nothing I can’t experience on a day-to-day basis (unlike The Sopranos, which offered me the chance to vicariously manage a mob family). It’s a lose-lose situation.

I came in with an open mind, but watching In Treatment’s first episode, wherein the doctor sees regular Laura, is like treating yourself to the all-humiliation network. (You may have become familiar with it in Never Been Kissed.). You’ve heard of cringe humor? In Treatment is cringe drama.

I’ve never been one to enjoy footage of the latest starlet-trainwreck, and Laura, who is supposed to be an anesthesiologist, is confessing — in a tasteless outfit and all — an evening of equal decorum. And then (spoiler), just when we were thinking she couldn’t be a more humiliated female, she confesses her attraction to Paul. Oh, it hurts.

And it goes on, in various degrees of grimness. Tuesday the doctor sees Alex, an extremely smart, cocky bomber pilot who may have a death wish, and who also might be gay. Wednesday is Sophie, an Olympic-gymnast hopeful who crashed a bike into a car and is seeking Paul’s professional opinion for the forthcoming court case. (Methinks she’s probably being abused in some way by her coach.) Thursday belongs to Jake and Amy. He’s a musician, she’s a high-powered executive. She’s been undergoing fertility treatments for the last 5 years in order to have another child, but now that she is pregnant is having second thoughts.

The ability to write subtly, giving us clues as to what ails the characters without insulting us with obviousness is a fine art (and if you can do it, please volunteer yourself for the miniseries adaptation of Paul Haggis’s Crash. I’m begging you.) In Treatment, so far, has its ups and downs in this respect.

But the show really suffers from uncreative camerawork. Part of what made the Tony-Melfi sessions so attractive (aside from the fact that we witnessed their lives outside the doctor’s office), was that occasionally we were given something like a master shot. We were able to actually see the actors react to one another.

In Treatment almost never shows Paul and his patients in the same shot, particularly once the actual session gets going. You might wonder if they even filmed it at once. (This suspicion reminded me of that tear William Hurt’s character edits into a filmed interview in Broadcast News.) When Laura or Alex, for example, talks or cries, we get the same mid-torso-up shot, then the doctor “reacts,” in the same kind of shot; they just pop back and forth that way like tennis. (It’s ripe for parody: Just insert freeze-frames of Gabriel Byrne with his pen to his lips and you’re halfway there!) Only the Thursday session is interesting because both Jake and Amy appear onscreen and, in fact, must battle each other quite brutally.

Anyway, you’ve probably culled from all this that you’ll be seeing Byrne acting on Friday. Even then, what is written — outside of Paul’s cliché middle-age, married-male problems: I never have sex, I can’t lose this weight — is a kind of a recap of what’s happened over the previous four days (perhaps Byrne could inconspicuously hold up a sign advertising that the show is on Monday through Thursday at Blank P.M., too). While that’s a clever way to catch viewers up, it will also have that cloying “previously on Heroes” effect for loyal watchers.

If In Treatment can win any. Ultimately it just isn’t that interesting to watch fake people confess fake problems to a nonexistent person who doesn’t really react, or does so on the most miniscule scale. If you feel your life is so empty that you need this five nights a week, might I suggest picking a friend or family member for each day to catch up with. I guarantee you, real life is more interesting. •

In Treatment
9:30pm-Mon-Fri
HBO
hbo.com/intreatment

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