For all the awards and nominations it has garnered in the US and the anticipatory water-cooler chat here in the UK, I couldn't muster much genuine excitement at the prospect of In Treatment, the US drama series that has just concluded the first week of a two-month weekday run on Sky Arts.
Set in the office of psychotherapist Paul Weston (played by Gabriel Byrne), each half-hour episode from Monday to Thursday is dedicated to a different patient's therapy session. Each Friday, the roles are reversed and it is Paul's turn to open up to his own therapist.
One's own neuroses are, of course, pretty fascinating. Those of one's friends are interesting in inverse proportion to the amount you hear about them. But immediately capturing viewers' interests with a static, real-time two-hander in which an unknown set of characters' innermost feelings are revealed in a frustrating game of verbal cat-and-mouse seemed to me a tall order. Add to that, the peculiarly British mistrust of psychoanalysis, and it might not, initially, seem hard to see why the HBO drama should have been overlooked by TV execs at the BBC and Channel 4.
But then, those were my thoughts before I actually saw In Treatment, and I can only assume that the people who decide what to buy in at the Beeb and elsewhere must never have got round to watching an episode, because all my misgivings were blown away within the first few minutes.
First on the couch was Laura (played by another didn't-they-do-well Aussie ex-soap star Melissa George). Of all the characters, she inspired the least sympathy, no doubt, I'm afraid to say, because she was an attractive, educated young woman with commitment issues; just the kind of self-indulgent, self-absorbed individual that one might imagine frittering away their hours and cash on a therapist's couch.
It didn't matter, though. George delivered a monologue so taut each word quivered, and as she ricocheted between self-delusion (professing her love for Paul in a classic case of "erotic transference") and moments of eye-watering candour (describing the minutiae of a messy sexual encounter the previous night), it became an arresting verbal cross-section of the human mind.
If it sounds like pretty heavy stuff, that's because it is. But it is also resolutely spare and there are moments of dark humour – Laura's throwaway comment on her one-night stand, for instance: "Corduroy pants, for God's sake ... preppy sweater ... probably a Republican."
On Tuesdays we meet Alex – for me the most intriguing character at this point – a thrusting fighter pilot hell-bent on rejecting any feelings of guilt for his part in the mistaken bombing of a school full of children in Iraq. Wednesdays are dedicated to a teen gymnast with suicidal tendencies and an unsettling relationship with her coach. On Thursday's it is the turn of Jake and Amy, a seemingly mismatched couple wrangling over whether to abort their baby after years of IVF.
However, it is the Friday episodes and Paul's own therapy sessions which form the fulcrum of the narrative as a whole. It has been suggested that people with any sort of life might not fancy structuring their week around a nightly appointment with the TV, or even a weekly Sky+ rendezvous, and can therefore choose a single character to follow. But once you have seen Paul venting his frustrations about his patients and his own family life, not to mention his oblique references to a complicated personal history with his older, female therapist, it begins to illuminate all the maddeningly inscrutable half-smiles and furrowed brows that define his near-silent presence through the rest of the week.
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In Israel, where the format for In Treatment originated from the show Be'Tipul, the therapy business has been enjoying a knock-on boom in clients, many no doubt hoping to receive the undivided attentions of a Gabriel Byrne-alike. I can't say that what I have seen has fired any interest in therapy itself, but it has certainly changed my perspective on the ingredients of good television.
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