Those first three seasons of “In Treatment,” which aired on HBO between 2008 and 2010, are legendary.
They represent some of the best of the post-“Sopranos” rush of TV greatness, subtly re-creating talk therapy in all of its pain, revelation, claustrophobia, and transference. Each half-hour of the East Coast-set drama simulated a session with Gabriel Byrne’s Dr. Paul Weston that unfolded like a tightly written one-act play for two people. The show was driven by exquisite performances and by words, not action, unless you count Freudian slips as a form of swashbuckling. The sheer intimacy of it all, egged on by searching camerawork, was breathtaking.
Based on an Israeli series, “In Treatment” wasn’t especially popular beyond its small, loyal fanbase. Over the years, though, it has gained enough recognition to justify a revival of sorts — with a new therapist in Uzo Aduba’s Dr. Brooke Taylor; a pretty new LA location; and a more obvious approach to storytelling. By obvious, I mean that there frequently seem to be red arrows pointing to characters when they display various psychological activities — look, he’s in DENIAL, she’s DISPLACING her feelings, they’re PROJECTING on each other. Some of the writing is a bit short on nuance this time around.
Season four of “In Treatment,” which premieres with two episodes Sunday at 9 p.m., takes place in the same world as the original, in that Byrne’s Paul Weston exists there as Brooke’s mentor and supervisor (though he is not seen in the episodes available for review). But otherwise it’s a rather different show. It’s not bad, and I fell into the faster rhythm of the episodes and the more direct performance by Aduba. It’s engaging enough, and I’m looking forward to finishing the season. But no, it isn’t as finely wrought, as inventive, or as profound as it once was — and I’m not surprised. There’s not a single revival of a great series that I can think of — except “The Comeback” — that has equaled the original. “Arrested Development,” “Will & Grace,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Murphy Brown,” “The X-Files,” they all came back in lesser form.
The show is set during the pandemic, so Brooke is seeing clients in her home, a gorgeous spot designed by her architect father, who recently died. It’s an odd place for therapy, even more so because Brooke has left out old family photographs and other personal items that therapists would typically remove. The sessions are meant to be about the client. But as we come to understand that Brooke has boundary issues, particularly in her grief, her decisions begin to make more sense. In the first episode, she takes a 2 a.m. call from a client, Anthony Ramos’s Eladio, who tells her about a dream and whom she calls “honey.” The first iteration of “In Treatment” was ultimately, and often quietly, about the very professional Paul, particularly when we followed him into his own therapy; this time, the show is more overtly about Brooke and her deep-rooted problems. The three clients we explore with her are clearly reflections of her own issues, not least of all Eladio, who reminds her of an early trauma.
None of the clients have the same specificity of those from the first three seasons, but they nonetheless held my attention. They’re broader by design. Colin, played with powerful mood swings by John Benjamin Hickey, is a tech exec recently released from jail for financial crimes. He’s angry about cancel culture, and it’s in his sessions that racial tensions flare, as he asks for Brooke’s pity for being an entitled white man. Quintessa Swindell’s Laila brings a taste of “Euphoria” to the narrative, as the 18-year-old works to shock and offend Brooke with her real or imagined sex life. She is wont to go off on Generation X, which she believes has left her generation with a toxic world. Along with Eladio, who may or may not be a drug seeker, the clients are defined by one or two big qualities rather than a hundred smaller ones.
As Brooke tries to steer them toward realizations, Colin, Laila, and Eladio (whom Brooke sees via Zoom) spend a lot of time deflecting and misdirecting. In the episodes devoted to Brooke’s self-examination, which feature Liza Colón-Zayas as her confidant Rita, Brooke herself also does a lot of dodging and darting. Aduba’s performance takes off as Brooke begins to unravel a bit, and as we get to see her with her problematic boyfriend, Joel Kinnaman’s Adam. Byrne was, fittingly, a slow burn as Paul; Aduba’s Brooke is a volcano on the verge of eruption.
The show will air two episodes on Sunday and two on Monday for the six-week run of the season. Yup, 24 half-hours. That’s quite a hefty commitment, but, like therapy, one that promises to pay off by the end.
Starring: Uzo Aduba, Quintessa Swindell, Anthony Ramos, Liza Colón-Zayas, John Benjamin Hickey, Charlayne Woodard, Joel Kinnaman
On: HBO. Premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. with two episodes