With In Treatment, HBO embarked on an unusual venture in both programming and production. Based on an Israeli television series called Be’Tipul, the network’s first half-hour drama revolves around the practice of therapist Dr. Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne) and five of his patients, including one couple. During its first season, the program aired five days a week, with each episode/day devoted to a different patient, and Fridays reserved for Paul himself, who visits with his professional mentor Gina (Dianne Wiest). Episodes are largely based on scripts from Be’Tipul, with a different writer handling a single character/day for the entire season. As such, every session maintains its own coherent narrative and could almost be watched independently of the other episodes. It may even be a worthwhile experiment to watch only one character’s sessions for the entire season.
Of course, this would only reveal a sliver of the overarching story, which is in fact a character study of Paul, whose patients, like something out of a Sartre play, may only serve as representations of his own psyche. At least that’s one view. As in psychology, In Treatment is open to many interpretations. What is clear is that the series weaves layer after layer of complex emotion and drama, allowing enough variation and fluidity to keep each episode distinctive from the last. Watching can be an emotionally draining experience, but, contrary to what might be expected with a show that chiefly takes place in a single room, episodes never grow tedious.
Another HBO series to famously feature therapy sessions was The Sopranos. But while the patient was the focus of those sessions, it is Paul’s personal life, which has secretly begun to fall apart, that is at the center of In Treatment. Beginning with week two, patients are seen more for their effect on their therapist rather than the reverse, culminating in the Friday sessions where Paul can finally express his private frustrations to someone else. And while the entire cast is surprisingly strong, it is Byrne and Wiest’s weekly tête à têtes that are easily the most anticipated episodes.
Perhaps the show’s voyeuristic journey into the private revelations of psychotherapy is a social commentary on our interest in the lives of perfect strangers, or perhaps it’s intriguing for being an area still unexplored by reality television. In either case, the show could easily trek into extravagant personal tragedy for the sake of melodrama, and there are moments where it dips perilously close during some patient sessions, but it regains its footing quickly, turning out an unflinching examination of the sordid and ever-complicated nature of people’s lives.
A sharp image with excellent colors and contrast and a well-balanced 5.1 audio mix. Each disc covers one week's worth of episodes. Menu design is elegant, with episodes denoted by patient names rather than episode number. There is also a helpful "Week # Recap" that summarizes all the previous disc's episodes. HBO delivers the nine-disc set in a smart, well-designed package that opens like a book rather than the usual foldout design.
This first season release contains no bonus material. For such a compelling serial, it's a shame there are no commentary tracks or interviews with the writers and cast or even real-life psychologists. Maybe, like other HBO shows, all the extra content will be saved for a single bonus disc when the complete series is eventually released.
A well-presented package for the first season of this excellent series that is sadly devoid of any extra content-but with a storyline this engaging, perhaps the distraction is unnecessary.