'In Treatment' takes big chances

Published January 27, 2008 11:38 pm
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Just two people alone in a room. Talking.

It happens in a bold new series from HBO, a fascinating, expertly written drama about fear, emotional entanglement and long-held secrets that bubble to the surface in therapy.

It's called "In Treatment," yet another wonderful experiment from the cable network that continues to take big chances. The shows airs Monday through Friday at 10:30 p.m. on HBO beginning tonight.

Gabriel Byrne ("The Usual Suspects") is Dr. Paul Weston, a psychotherapist who visits several patients a week, including an attractive woman (Melissa George) who doesn't know if she can break up with her boyfriend; a young gymnast (Mia Wasikowska) who is required to see the doctor after a suspicious accident; a Navy pilot (Blair Underwood) who may be guilt-ridden over killing children in an accidental bombing raid; and a couple debating whether to have an abortion.

The show, based on an Israeli television series, takes a different approach in terms of presentation. There are five 30-minute episodes each week, one per night, with the doctor meeting these same four patients throughout the nine-week season. Each week concludes in a Friday night session with Paul's own therapist, played by the great Oscar winner Dianne Wiest ("Hannah and her Sisters," "Bullets Over Broadway").

It's simple but oh-so-complicated. What makes this courageous series such a challenge is that it relies on two things: good, tight writing, and subtle acting based on vulnerability.

The first week's episodes perform beautifully. The stories of misplaced love, guilt, and suicidal tendencies are riveting and heartfelt.

Byrne has a quiet, skilled presence, always listening and earnest. He's brilliantly cast as the therapist who, it turns out, has his own set of neuroses that develop from his weekly sessions and a troubled marriage.

A daily 30-minute session is a big commitment for viewers. But I can't wait to make a nightly appointment with "In Treatment."

More rehab: Another therapy series concentrates on addiction and recovery. It's VH1's "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew," and I have to admit I'm addicted.

Drew Pinsky, an addiction and recovery expert and host of syndicated radio's "Loveline," takes in eight celebrities addicted to various substances, including wrestling diva Chyna, actress Brigitte Nielsen ("Rocky IV"), and actor Daniel Baldwin ("Vampires").

But the saddest case so far is "Taxi" co-star Jeff Conaway, who has suffered from opiate addiction for so long, he's become an emaciated shell of his former self who you won't recognize from his sitcom days.

Viewers get to peek into their group sessions and detox nightmares, and even though this may seem like another shameless reality show that preys on celebrity culture, it actually strips away their glamour and shows how drugs attack their personalities. New episodes air Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m. on VH1.


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