More interesting structurally than in its execution, this HBO series — closely adapted from an Israeli program — represents an intriguing experiment designed to capitalize on the pay channel’s ability to slice and dice a five-nights-a-week half-hour in a variety of ways. Ultimately, though, the stagy feeling of the individual components — each essentially two-character pieces that self-consciously exhibit a writer’s touch — strain the show’s credibility and tend to cause one’s attention to lag. In short, HBO gets more credit for laying down the bet on “In Treatment” than what it pays off.
Director Rodrigo Garcia (“Big Love,” “Six Feet Under”) both directs and adapted the scripts, which are the work of five separate writers for “Be’Tipul,” the Israeli show.
The common thread is therapist Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne), whose sessions with four patients account for the Monday-through-Thursday installments: Laura (Melissa George), a young woman ambivalent about her present relationship as well as burgeoning feelings toward Paul; Alex (Blair Underwood), a military pilot wrestling with a mission gone wrong; Sophie (Mia Wasikowska), a teenage gymnast whose recent injury may not have been accidental; and Jake (Josh Charles) and Amy (Embeth Davidtz), a squabbling couple debating whether to abort the child she’s carrying.
Finally, on the fifth day, when the increasingly harried Paul could use a rest, he meets with his own therapist, Gina (Dianne Wiest), with whom he’s reconnecting after a 10-year hiatus. Subsequent episodes introduce Paul’s wife (Michelle Forbes), part of a clearly troubled marriage that begins influencing his work, as he confesses to “losing patience with my patients.”
In theory, if you don’t like one story, you might spark to another, with the craggy Byrne — the admirable glue holding the messy concoction together — appearing in virtually every scene. Moreover, the 43 half-hours can be assembled vertically on demand, and each episode will repeat prior to the subsequent corresponding one (that is, Laura before Laura, etc.), trying to establish some thread of continuity.
It’s all reasonably clever on that level — just the kind of risky endeavor HBO should be embracing — but not nearly so much so in dissecting the therapy sessions themselves. Beyond the off-Broadway sensibility, the dialogue often sounds stilted, and you can feel the various writers pulling the strings.
Similarly, the patients are almost uniformly too bizarre to be particularly relatable, indicating they were either unnecessarily exaggerated for effect or something was (literally) lost in translation. Only the bickering Jake and Amy approach a recognizable level of humanity, and even they succumb to their share of false-ringing notes.
Through four weeks of episodes, the strongest chapter centers on Paul’s visits to Gina, as the two therapists engage in a kind of intellectual chess match — her probing to reveal what’s gnawing at him; him recognizing the various feints and traps and still occasionally falling into them.
“In Treatment’s” intensity does build as the weeks progress, but it’s never completely absorbing, and you wonder how many viewers will commit to such a demanding regimen even with multiple plays to catch up on missed half-hours.
“Don’t assume that everybody who comes to see me is miserable,” Paul protests at one point.
But they are, as well as a bit too nutty to make HBO’s latest merit a regular appointment.