Saturday, February 9, 2008

Treament Treatments: Therapy on TV

I don’t create the zeitgeist, I just report on it. Let the sociologists figure out why we have a fascination with other people’s therapy sessions, as if our own weren’t entertaining enough—and expensive. With all this therapy, who can afford cable?

No fewer than four recent cable series feature the intimate relationship between therapist and patient, and the latest, HBO’s In Treatment is based solely on this. I know you’ve all been thinking: “Mark loves TV (cable TV—I keep having to emphasize this; network TV sucks), loves therapy; worlds collide! Where’s the blog post?” Here’s are the verymarkmccormick mini-reviews of treatment treatments.

Sopranos—The gold standard. If they released a DVD of just Tony and Dr. Melfi's sessions, I would watch it. Lorraine Bracco won awards for her performance. She played it tough and sexy. Her voice was always slightly boozy to me, and she talked slowly; it was kind of like she had just quaffed a martini to steel herself for the verbal and near-physical (and once an actual physical) assaults from Tony. This façade was perfect for Tony who was kind of dense when it came to the language of feelings. He’d yell and swear; she’d frown and blink a few times behind those thick-lensed glasses, but hold her gaze, shift in her chair, show some leg, bite back. The real genius, though, came out in her own sessions with her shink, Dr. Elliot Kupferberg, played by Peter Bogdonavich. My shrink reports that those consultations were spot-on, the best ever filmed, and of course I wondered: what does he say about me?

Huff—Am I the only one who watched Huff? I loved this show about the psychologist Huff and his less than perfect life. His wife was a complete pill, but his son, brother, and Mom (Blythe Danner! For you youngsters, that’s Gwyneth’s mom) were terrific: complex and good-looking. There were plenty of scenes where he would be administering therapy, but they were kind of soap-operatic: someone commits suicide in his office; another patient stalked him. Best part, like with Soporanos, was his own therapy. He sought out Dr. Lena Markova because she was like the last shrink on earth who still did MDMA therapy. That is of course the pure chemical version of what became the drug Ecstasy. MDMA was used in psychotherapeutic settings until the seventies. It was known to be a truth drug. Some shrinks claimed they could make years of progress in one session using the drug, because it cut through all the bullshit. In any case, can you imagine anything more delicious than a sultry, brainy Anjelica Huston as Dr. Markova, who clears an afternoon of her time, invites him to her swanky house (it was very Stevie Nicks meets Carl Jung) gives him a hit of MDMA then hangs with him as the truth pours out; listening to the tape later, he made important decisions. Sign me up!

Tell Me You Love Me. I’ve written about this show and the therapy scenes. Compared to the others, I would say the therapy itself is less than clinically correct; she seemed too quick to make recommendations that usually take a year or two to draw out. But the acting of the couples was superb. By the end of the season, I cared about most of the couples and about Dr. May Foster.

In Treatment. Okay, it might be too early to tell, but I think this series will become something of an obsession. The structure is simple, but elegant: four nights a week, for 30 minutes we witness "Paul" (played by Gabriel Byrne) and his patients. On the fifth night we witness his session with his shrink, Gina (played by Dianne Wiest (!) Their relationship is clouded—she’s clearly wounded and disappointed by him which suggests a high order of counter-transference is going on. That's shrink talk meaning she's too emotionally involved. That's really the dramatic arc of this show: transference and counter-tranference. In the Monday-Thursday sessions, we see one episode each of the same four patients, so we’re following the progress, and this is going to go on for nine weeks. The series is based on an Israeli series, and apparently it captured the national attention and press. I always think Israelis have good taste. There’s something mysterious about each of the four patients (three individuals and one couple). The cool thing is, if you don’t like one of them, you can ignore that night. I know, you’re thinking, “five nights a week? Come on!” But it’s only 30 minutes. McTherapy.


Dave said...

I actually like 'Panic' (2000) in this vein, a little nod to 'Sopranos'. But then, I like anything with William H Macy.

Robin said...

Thank God for this veryMarkMcCormick blog - I would have no idea what the f*** was going on otherwise.