“In Treatment”: HBO’s Emotional Breakthrough
Matt Shedd - 8/26/2014
This is part of an ongoing series focusing on Peabody-winning HBO shows.
Although not usually listed alongside The Sopranos, Deadwood and The Wire as one of the immortal HBO programs, In Treatment was both daring in form and relentless in its examination of the human heart.
The series was an American adaptation of an Israeli series, BeTipul. Gabrielle Byrne starred as therapist Dr. Paul Watson. During the first season in 2008, the episodes of the series were televised every weekday for eight-and-a-half weeks so the viewer got a chance to follow Paul’s typical work week. This added up to a staggering 43 episodes in the first season. On Monday through Thursday the audience followed Paul and four separate clients as he tried to guide them through their own crises. The series was then taken to another level of complexity by the Friday episodes, where we got to see Paul undergoing his own “treatment” with his former, and now estranged, mentor (played by Oscar and Emmy-winning actress Dianne Weist). Throughout the three seasons of the show, Paul goes through his own process of self-discovery, negotiating personal problems that are as every bit as frightening and overwhelming as those of his clients.
The second season had 35 episodes but HBO did not air the episodes every week night as they did during the first season, and the third season dropped down to 28 episodes with Paul seeing three clients and enlisting the services of a new therapist played by Amy Ryan, a familiar face from both The Wire and The Office. Even after dropping down to four new episodes a week, rather than five, In Treatment produced more than twice the number of episodes than the average cable TV show.
In addition to the format of daily visits with clients, the freedom that HBO gives its storytellers allowed for something truly special in this series by taking the viewer inside the characters’ own painful processes of self-discovery. The characters tell their own stories through the vulnerable self-exposure that comes out of their therapy sessions. Viewers follow both the clients and the therapists as they go through the twists and turns of denial, transference, lust, jealousy, clarity, relief, guilt and all the other accompanying emotional states that emerge during in a therapist-client relationship. In short, In Treatment is gripping and sometimes devastatingly powerful television. It is perhaps one of the medium’s most thorough examinations of the therapeutic process.
As the Peabody Board slyly observed when awarding the show after its second season, “The secret pleasure of In Treatment is that it gives us a voyeuristic look into the mysterious world of psychoanalysis where we can imagine ourselves through the troubles of others.”