In Treatment, the HBO series about Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne, easily his best work), a Washington-area shrink who struggles to analyze his patients while dealing his own familial strife. There are 45 thirty-minute episodes in this season, which is a lot of hours for a single season. It was a huge risk for HBO to ask a viewer to commit to that many hours in a single run, but that's what HBO does best. It takes risks.
The format is unlike any other show on TV. Five episodes run each week (or per disc, in my case), for 9 weeks. It unfolds in real time (or close to it), with each episode focusing on a single session. The first four sessions: Laura (Melissa George), a 30-something year-old nurse who has serious commitment issues; Alex (Blair Underwood), a cocksure Navy pilot who struggles with the repercussions of a recent mission; Sophie (a great Mia Wasikowska), a teenage gymnast with suicidal tendencies; and Jake and Amy (Josh Charles and Embeth Davitz) as a couple whose marriage is crumbling. The fifth session is reserved for Paul and his own shrink, played by the inimitable Dianne Wiest. Their sessions, especially, are crackling with tension.
The show is not for impatient viewers. It's leisurely paced and we rarely leave Paul's cozy office. As the viewer, you're simply eavesdropping on Paul and his patients as they talk endlessly about feelings, emotions, relationships. I thought it would take me a while to adapt to the show's talky style, but thanks to this remarkable cast and the show's sharp, subtle teleplays, it didn't take me long to get hooked. Everyone here had a chance to shine, but I felt the portrayal of Sophie, the young gymnast, was the most emotional. Paul had to peel a lot of layers off Sophie and the payoff was impressive. Her final episode (featuring a nice appearance by Peter Horton) was surprising and heartfelt.
The rest of the cast was perfectly fine. Even if you didn't like a particular character or session, it wasn't long before the show moved on to the next episode. Michelle Forbes had some really strong scenes as Paul's wife as did the wonderful Mae Whitman as his daughter, Rosie. Like I said, everyone on the show had a chance to make an emotional impact. There is no weak link here.
The best element of the show, without a doubt, is Byrne. The camera loves him. He anchors the show with his intelligent shrink-speak and thoughtful gazes. He's in control during the sessions with his patients, and it's thrilling to see him firing on all cylinders. As the season progresses, he begins to lose that control while his personal life eats away at him. Byrne delivers a subtle, layered performance, worthy of many accolades.
I look forward to seeing Paul with his new patients (John Mahoney! Hope Davis!) in season 2.