Prize- winning drama is good therapy
The scripts are so well written that the long scenes resemble an intimate play
HOWEVER you define it, therapy is normally poorly represented on television. Usually some sort of cipher, the therapist too often is used for mere exposition to show us quickly where the character’s depths were created so that we will understand, in neat soundbites, why they react the way they do.
Therapists also seem to be there to allow the writers to get back, in a fairly hostile way, at their parents, or at someone else who took a highhanded disciplinary tack with them. ‘‘ See what they did to me?’’ they practically shriek. Poor dears.
The TV therapists who come to mind, apart from real ones such as Drew Pinsky in Strictly Dr Drew, are the likes of the wonderful Tracey Ullman as the insane Dr Tracey Clark in Ally McBeal . Of course she was played for comedy, but Dr Clark’s self- indulgent, insightless and often cruel approach to Ally had me thinking show creator David E. Kelly might have had issues.
Then there are the platitude dispensers, who come out with the shallowest wisdom, like old women with home remedies. A good example is Dr George Huang ( B. D. Wong) in Law & Order: SVU. Give him a paragraph- length forensic report and he’s there with the homily, the diagnosis and the solution.
But before our session is over, let’s turn our attention to the remarkable Gabriel Byrne as Dr Paul Weston in this excellent new program.
Therapy can’t really be dramatic because it is intensely personal and plodding, and reveals its insights so gradually that it would be utterly mundane for anyone not directly involved to witness.
So the challenge for this show is to take the common premise of therapy — the hostile, troubled or dependent client, the therapist’s erotic transference and especially the therapist’s supervisor ( played magnificently here by Dianne Wiest as Gina) — and make drama out of it.
Already we are worlds away from Ally McBeal. Indeed, the scripts are so well written and performed that the long scenes between just two ( or sometimes three) actors resemble the performance of an intimate play.
The format, script and opening theme, and the idea of running the entire season on consecutive nights, are borrowed from the Israeli TV show BeTipul, created by filmmaker Hagai Levi, who producer here.
Watching Byrne pull apart his performance as the outwardly calm and wise Dr Weston in the offices of his supervisor, where he seethes with rage and hurt, is electrifying.
The show was nominated for four Emmys this year, including outstanding lead actor in a drama series ( Byrne) and outstanding supporting actress in a drama series ( Wiest, who won the category).
Happily for new fans, a second series has been commissioned to follow the 43 episodes of the first.
Heal thyself: Gabriel Byrne as the troubled Dr Weston