From 2008 to 2010 HBOAward-winningIn treatmentWas one of the most famous dramas on television and started the career of Mia Wasikowska, Allison pill, and Dane DeHaan, among other. Based on the Israeli show “BeTipulThe show took place in real time and revealed half-hour sessions between patient and therapist, played by Gabriel Byrne. A decade after the show started, HBO unexpectedly announced that it would be late returning with a new doctor and new patient in 2021. Yet largely the same structure and theme, re-analyzing how therapists and those who see them influence each other. The original series felt incredibly vulnerable and true, and found emotion through its empathetic portrayal of subjects such as mental illness, divorce, cancer, panic attacks, abortion, and more. The restart lacks some of the truth of the original three seasons, and it feels disappointingly more overwritten than it does a decade ago. A phenomenal performance by a future star makes one of the sessions worth seeing on its own, but both the patients and the doctor here too often sound like TV writers rather than real people. It’s nice to have “In Treatment” back on TV, but it takes a few more sessions in the writer’s room before a possible fifth season can find his voice again.
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The action of “In Treatment” has shifted from the east coast to the west and is now under the eyes of Dr. Brooke Lawrence (Uzo Aduba), a former colleague of Byrnes Paul Weston, who has become world famous over the past decade. The show, which was filmed in late 2020, very much recognizes the existence of COVID, particularly through Dr. Lawrence’s first patient each week, Eladio (Anthony Ramos), a household helper for a wealthy family who works with his therapist through Zoom. This immediately creates a different sensitivity, as the first three seasons were often about the energy in the space between patient and doctor, how they read each other’s body language, and about negativity or positivity. Ramos pushes through this breakup, however, in order to make it part of his character, a young man who is beginning to see Brooke as a mother figure, a role that she doesn’t really push hard on given the recently deceased father, and that she is adept at got into a spiral to find a son she put up for adoption as a teenager. In a way, she too sees Eladio as a child to take care of, a substitute for the child she doesn’t know. Of course, this is never a good dynamic to nurture.
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In the second session of the week, Brooke volunteers with a man named Colin (John Benjamin Hickey), who is deposed in the first episode by his probation officer because of anger problems that the economic criminal shows behind bars. Colin is a fascinating alpha male who constantly plays games to control the conversation. He’s defensive, prone to anger, and one of those who constantly signal virtues in a way that’s really just designed to make him feel better. He’s the guy who marches at a women’s rights rally but defends using the C word when trying to make a point. Hickey has been a strong character actor for decades and has been doing very well, but the writing here is cracked and often feels like a comment on “wakefulness” and “breaking culture” in a way that doesn’t feel organic. He’s the person who grumbles against cultural change, someone who likes to blame the climate for his predicament instead of taking responsibility. This guy is all over the place, but the writers here didn’t quite figure him out.
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The third session suffers from a similar problem due to the character of Laila (Quintessa Swindell), a young woman who was deposed by a grandmother who is basically seeking conversion therapy. She says she just wants Dr. Lawrence helps Laila with her sexual problems, but too many of these sessions feel like archetypal writing about “teenage rebellion.” More than any other character in the show’s history, Laila never feels three-dimensional in the four sessions aired for the press. It is a mouthpiece rather than a character that puts topics about race and generational differences into a script rather than presenting them in a way that feels organically developed by a real person.
Even more frustrating is that Adubas Lawrence has a similar problem with a writer’s voice in her sessions that end every week with a friend named Rita (Liza Colón-Zayas). Here viewers learn how her father’s death led her to find out what happened to her child and that she is a recovering alcoholic who may have returned to her demons from an old friend named Adam (Joel Kinnaman). Aduba really struggles against it, but the dialogue in the fourth session feels more melodramatic than real, and that’s a shame considering how many times this show felt true and pure in its original incarnation. (And it is also not a mistake by Colón-Zayas, who is doing her best to make the overly scripted material sound real.) The writing and directing staff have shifted and no longer work with original scripts from the Israeli version. You can feel those two things in the texture and veracity of the show.
The man who often permeates this melodrama is Ramos, the star of the summer.In the heightsAnd a young actor on the verge of a superstar. He finds honesty in the fast-speaking Eladio who conducts his meetings at the easy The highlight of the four episodes per week. While one would lose some of the subconscious motives Brooke shows with Eladio by missing out on how the other patients and Rita / Adam influence them, a viewer could really just watch the Ramos episodes and see some powerful drama. His episodes remind us of what “In Treatment” can be best and show what historically works best about the show – this dynamic between patient and therapist that influences both sides. Parts of the other half hours do this too, of course, but not as successfully, and often feel aware of the thematic purpose in a way that turns characters into mouthpieces. If the show continues and there’s an arc as good as Eladio’s every season, it’s still worth a look, even if the original show produced one every night of the week. [B-]
“In Treatment” Season 4 debuts May 23 on HBO.