Gotta Be ‘In Treatment’

Anyone miss 2010? Anyone? No one?

Of course no one misses it! It was the year that that all the world’s people (with few exceptions) were plagued by unremitting anxiety and deep depression. And with good reason: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the global economic downturn, climate change, and, yes, the angst-fest known as Black Swan (more on that later). Yet a small but ardent group of television viewers managed to hold on to hope and change for one more year. How? By watching fictional characters work through their anxiety and depression of course!

I’m referring to the third season of In Treatment, HBO’s shrink drama starring Gabriel Byrne. In my opinion, it was the best television show of 2010. As of now, however, HBO has not announced whether or not In Treatment will be returning for a fourth season in 2011, and the internet rumor mill has it that Byrne may have had enough of playing boundary-crossing, therapist-baiting, compassionate, arrogant, befuddled, all-too-human therapist Paul Weston.

If you’ve never seen In Treatment, picture this: two people in a room, one whining, the other nodding. Television doesn’t get any better than that! No, really, television doesn’t get any better than that. For three seasons now, what’s transpired in that room, especially between Paul and his first therapist Gina (played by Dianne Wiest) and then, this season, his new therapist (played by Amy Ryan) has been such gripping, compelling drama that it’s hard to imagine it may have come to an end.

So, here are just some of the reasons to hope for a Season Four:

In Treatment is a drama that knows it’s a drama.

This contrasts sharply with the two so-called dramas I saw in movie theaters this fall: The Town and Black Swan. The Town starts out as a reasonably good drama about a man trying to escape his criminal environment, but then it devolves into a shoot-em-up action flick that makes The Expendables seem believable. And what can I say about Black Swan that hasn’t already been said? (Apparently a lot, since it’s received tons of accolades and four major Golden Globe nominations.) All I know is that from the moment Barbara Hershey, who plays the psycho-mother of psycho-ballerina Natalie Portman, appears onscreen with her tautly pulled back black black hair against her white white skin, and the music attempts to deliver a Jaws look-out-shark-approaching moment, I had to put my popcorn down so I wouldn’t choke from laughing so hard. With In Treatment, I’m quite sure my emotional reactions were the ones the creators were manipulating me into having—and that’s a good thing.

In Treatment is obsession-worthy.

There’s nothing quite like an addictive television show being discussed by people addicted to discussing things online. The forums, blogs, and comments on websites like A.V. Club, Shrink Rap, and Salon revealed an obsessiveness (not to mention insight) on the part of In Treatment viewers unmatched by anything I’ve ever seen. Four episodes of the show each week followed by hours of online chatter is an obsessive’s dream come true!

Gabriel Byrne’s accent is hot.

It’s not just the irresistible Irish brogue, but the growl and snarl he injects into it.

Amy Ryan’s eyes are riveting.

This is an actress who can express more with her eyes than most actresses can with their entire bodies. Because her character Adele is a classically trained psychoanalyst, she’s not supposed to react to what her client says, but, rather, to simply reflect back the client’s thoughts and feelings to him or her. But because this is television and this is a show with a lot of extreme close-ups and Adele might or might not have romantic feelings for Paul, she needs to have some expression. What a fantastic challenge that must be for an actress, and Ryan handles it with such finesse. There’s the fluttering of her eyelashes when she’s responding to Paul’s condescension with a rejoinder, the upward eye tilt when she’s thinking of something particularly insightful, and, most importantly, the ever-so-slight widening of the eyes in response to Paul’s sudden declaration of love. Watch just one episode, and you’ll see a master class in understated acting.

Loss is a necessary part of life, sure, but must it be a necessary part of TV?

We’ve already bid adieu over the years to HBO’s Sex and the City, The Sopranos, and The Wire. Having to say goodbye to In Treatment would stir up serious loss and abandonment issues, and, ironically, we won’t know how to deal with them without In Treatment to turn to.

So, HBO and Gabriel Byrne, if you care about quality television, mental health, and providing Amy Ryan with a dramatic television role worthy of her talents, bring back In Treatment in 2011!