Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dispatch from press tour: Talking 'In Treatment' season two

I'll try to do a roundup of notable stuff from yesterday's 9 a.m.-9 p.m. marathon later today, but the session I was most excited about -- which should come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog during the strike -- was the one for HBO's "In Treatment," which will be back in April with a number of changes.

Season one showrunner Rodrigo Garcia handed over the reins to playwright and longtime "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" producer Warren Leight. Production has moved from LA to New York (which will lead to a change in the series' locale, which I'll get into in a minute). Gabriel Byrne's Dr. Paul Weston will have four new patients, in addition to his own therapy sessions with Dianne Wiest's Dr. Gina Toll. And the scheduling of the series will be different: instead of one episode per night, Monday to Friday, HBO's going to air two on Sunday nights and three on Monday nights, because their research showed that people tended to watch the show in chunks anyway. (And if you preferred the old schedule, there's always your DVR or On Demand.) There will also only be seven weeks instead of nine this time.

After the jump, an interview with Leight, preceded by some very minor spoilers about the new season. You know how spoiler-averse I am, but this is all in the set-up, and if you watched "In Treatment" season one, you know the real secrets of each patient won't be revealed until much much later. But if you want to go in cold, stop reading.

So, as we begin the new season, Paul's marriage is over (though Michelle Forbes will appear at some point), he's being sued for negligence by Alex's father (which means more of the amazing Glynn Turman), and he's moved to Brooklyn. The new patients include Hope Davis as a tightly-wound lawyer (who's also representing Paul in the negligence case), Aaron Shaw as an 11-year-old struggling to cope with his parents' impending divorce, Alison Pill as a young woman who doesn't want to accept her cancer diagnosis, and John Mahoney as a CEO who's having trouble sleeping.

So here's what I had to ask Leight after HBO showed a series of clips from the new season:

Can you talk a little bit about the challenge of coming into the show, exploring the world of Paul and now you have to be the caretaker of his story?

Well, yeah, that’s — first, do no harm... The challenge is to keep – to understand this guy and to keep his voice consistent. Gabriel is, you know — Gabriel knows his character now as well as any of the writers ever will, so that’s always a help for us. But it’s staying true to the form, and we have four new patients this year. So there’s enough that we have to preserve, and then there’s this new group of patients pushing buttons for Paul in different ways.

In the first season, there were, every now and then, an episode that went off of the format. You would see Paul with his kids or Paul doing other things, and it looked from these clips we just saw like there’s going to be at least a couple of episodes having to deal with that. How often are you going to move away from the one patient every day?

It’s mostly in the room with two people. Even when we move outside the room, it will mostly be Paul with one other person in a scene. That’s our conceit. For us a big move is sort of when Paul leans in.

There are a couple of well-chosen, tightly-boarded exteriors. There are a couple of moments outside, but the show takes place in those sessions. You may see it more in the opener or the sort of the coda at the end, something like that

Am I correct in assuming that it’s Alex’s family that’s suing him, and if so, will Glynn Turman be back?

Glynn Turman is coming back, and he’s not in a good mood about last season. So I think that’s a fair assumption. And Glynn Turman comes back. Michelle Forbes comes back. The marriage is over, but, you know, there’s always – not all the embers have died out. So we’ll be seeing her. We’ll be seeing two of Paul’s kids at least.

When you were brought into this, had you watched the first season?

Yeah, the joke was that I was the last guy in the world anyone thought would survive within "Law & Order." It was a skillset I had to develop. I don't know what it says about me that people would say, "Oh, this show would be perfect for Warren." I think I play shrink a lot. They were looking for "a Warren-like type," that was the word.

What were the strengths and weaknesses of that first season?

I thought it was at times an agonizing portrait of people inc risis. My favorite storyline, I liked everyone's work, but I thought the Sophie storyline moved me the most. I thought the sessions with Dianne were pretty terrific. And it was accurate that the couple was stuck, in a sense. And of course when you're doing a show about a therapist, in the first season there's going to be a question of, "Is he going to sleep with a patient?" That has a built-in drama to it. This year we have to think more in terms of arcing things over the seven episode run. You don't have that "Will he or won't he?" thing hanging over the whole season. I have to find ways to deepen it. I also think this year will have more of a sense of place than last year. Last year took place in a Maryland suburb, but it was almost like once you got into that room, the outside world didn't exist. And it'll have more of a presence.

Last year, the audience seemed to rank the patients. As you did, everybody loved Sophie, they loved the Gina episodes. The other three patients they liked or didn't like to varying degrees. But you can't only watch a couple of the episodes a week because important things happen for Paul throughout the week, so you and the audience are stuck with all of them. Was there anything done in choosing the four patients for this season to make them more appealing across the board?

First of all, I have to give props. This was based on an Israeli series, the broad storylines and characters.

So these are the same patients from season two of "Betipul"?

Most of them. There's some variation. The thing I'm trying to do this year is that last year was more of a translation. This year is more of an adaptation. I try to think of what is the American cultural equivalent of some of these characters and their issues. I'm hoping that in adapting it, some of the issues will be slightly more relatable to an American audience. In the Israeli show, there's a backstory about a younger brother with manic depression. I swapped it out for autism, because it's something we all know a lot more about, and we have enough people with manic depression in the room. Monday, the patient is Hope Davis, then you have this fantastic family, Alison Pill, John Mahoney -- that's like a relay race where there's not a weak link. If I can write it, they can play it. And I brought in Marsha Norman to write the Gina episodes, and she's a killer. Ryan Fleck has directed some of the episodes, he did "Half-Nelson." I'm doing everything I can -- not to knock last season, it was great, but people did have their favorites. Ideally, this year they're not going to be able to say that.

One of the things that was always interesting was to see which patients Paul was on with, and which he wasn't. He was pretty terrible with the couple, he let them push his buttons, he let Alex push his buttons some of the time, and obviously he had all sorts of problems with the Melissa George character.

Yeah, she was pulling his zipper, which is even worse than pushing his buttons.

And it looks from the clips like he's still feeling burnt-out, but is he more on his game?

I think he is. I think he has to be. To be honest, you can watch a brilliant therapist malfunction for a year, but a detective has to start solving some murders or I'm not going to tune in after a while. He's gone through the divorce. He's in a mid-life crisis himself -- Who am I? Why do I want to do this? -- but he's functioning better as a therapist than he did last year. People are still pushing his buttons, but he's handling it in a different way. There's still things he needs to talk about with his own therapist, but he's not acting out in sessions with patients in the same way.

If he's in Brookly and Gina's in Maryland, what are the logistics of those Friday episodes?

We came up with this idea that he's one of those Amtrak dads. He's in New York Monday through Thursday, sees some patients, teaches a class, takes the train down, has a session with Gina and then sees his kids for two days and is back in New York for 7 a.m., because Hope Davis is a lawyer who's so (bleeping) organized that the only slot she has is 7 a.m. on Monday.

To work with Hope Davis is a nice privilege, but she's tough on him. She's trying to push the same buttons Laura did, but he's learned from his mistakes.

Obviously, this is a strong cast this year, but I re-watched the Glynn Turman episode the other day, and it still messes me up every time I see it.

I don't think that was from the Israeli show. That was a writer here. We open the season, the first person we see is Glynn, knocking on Paul's door at 6 a.m. with a lawsuit. That guy is a beautiful actor. So the thing hanging over Paul this year, in addition to the lawsuit, is his guilt over what he could have done differently, which is great. Obviously, it's terrible for Paul, but it's great for me.

Last year, Paul seemed to make breakthroughs with each patient at the same time, and each patient's story basically wrapped up in the last couple of weeks. Is it going to be the same pace this time, or might some of their stories continue if there's a third season?

I don't know if there's a third season, but yes. The truth is, Paul probably sees 40 patients. These are the four we choose to show. What I'm trying to avoid is every scene in episode seven ending with a hug or a "(Bleep) you." Every story needs some closure, but it doesn't need to be final. I want to try to have a different rhythm if possible. It is a challenge.

And the other thing is you've seen in seven weeks what might take place over three years if a therapist is really on a roll.

Well, that's a function of drama, isn't it?

On "Criminal Intent," we would get DNA results back in half an hour, and Goren solved a third of New York's murders last year. It's episodic, and within that -- to take 22 minutes to write one scene with two people is so extraordinary with the writers. Television scenes are three minutes, five people in the room.

I watch Melissa George on "Grey's Anatomy" now, and she's playing a somewhat similar character, a doctor, damaged, who uses sex as a self-defense mechanism, and the format of this show allows you to really peel somebody's onion, which you can't do on a traditional show.

We actually put an onion in the writers room on day one. It's a question of what gets revealed when. I have my execs saying, "What's causing his anxiety attacks?" And I go, "The audience isn't going to find out for a while, do you want to know now?" I think it's more exciting to watch John Mahoney go through what he's going to go through.

He's great. He's flying in, doing a play at Steppenwolf in Chicago, does five shows on the weekend, flies in at midnight, is on our set at 7 a.m., is perfect on 22 pages and is out the door to do a show Tuesday night.

In the casting of this season, because you'd moved to New York and it was so theatrical, was it hard to find people, or were actors clamoring to do this?

There was a clamor, having nothing to do with anything I did with the show. The same way writers wanted to be on this show, actors did -- I should say, "good actors," because some actors ran away from this thing so fast it would turn your head. And they had every reason to run away, because they feared they would run out of arrows pretty quickly. But actors who wanted a challenge came at us. In the New York world you have some relationships. It's a perfect job for Hope, she shoots two days out of 10, can be with her kids, and she can get deeper and deeper as you go. It's rare to have an actor like that. I was surprised at how many people wanted in, and interested in the ones who didn't.


Anonymous said...

I dont know how i feel about the new format. I absolutely love this show, and i loved having 30 mins every day to watch it, but am not against it being stacked in this manner. The only prob for me at least is that monday nights are already extremely crowded (dvr wise even), with shows like gossip girl, chuck, 24, heroes (which could be good by then), big bang theory, HIMYM and whatever new stuff comes in. So 3 episodes of this on top of those is a little crazy. But i guess they count dvr numbers anyways.

Mapeel said...

I just saw John Mahoney at Steppenwolf in The Seafarer. It was a thrill to see him onstage, his natural habitat. That's why In Treatment is so perfect for him. And playing a CEO will be great to see his authority side.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I just saw John Mahoney at Steppenwolf in The Seafarer.

That must be the show he's doing while flying back and forth to NY for filming of the show.

I love Mahoney.

Nicole said...

The new season sounds interesting, although I have to admit that I am concerned about the Hope Davis character being Paul's lawyer and patient. This screams conflict of some sort, and considering she isn't stable enough to deal with her own issues, does he really want her to act for him on a negligence case? I would think that a colleague would be more suited to deal with the issue on an impartial basis.

I hope they deal with this intelligently, because it already seems like a bit too much of dramatic licence.

Matthew said...

The new season sounds interesting, although I have to admit that I am concerned about the Hope Davis character being Paul's lawyer and patient. This screams conflict of some sort, and considering she isn't stable enough to deal with her own issues, does he really want her to act for him on a negligence case? I would think that a colleague would be more suited to deal with the issue on an impartial basis.

Especially since it sounds like the lawsuit starts after treatment starts - I could almost accept it if it was the other way around. But I can understand the desire to make his lawyer a patient - it allows them to develop the lawsuit story without losing a patient while Paul meets with his lawyer or just hearing the story related back to Gina.

That said, the relationship between those two could be interesting, with the characters almost swapping roles throughout the episodes (the doctor/patient relationship is similar to the lawyer/client one).

I disagree with you about the lawyer's ability to handle the case. Just because she has some personal problems does not mean that she is unable to conduct a professional and skilled defence. Not everyone goes to a shrink because they're about to have a nervous breakdown.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm curious as to which actors didn't want in.

Really looking forward to the new patients. I'll have to watch later in the week, though--my Sundays and Mondays are waaay too full.

Anonymous said...

I have to say it was a good move on hbo's part to change the schedule. I know I watched on-demand two or 3 episodes at a time and never watched the nightly episode on regular HBO.

The move to NY worries me a little. There are too many NY shows as there is and then here comes the classic NY character with the CEO. The guy runnin the show makes a good point that the Maryland location was not really explored in season 1, but I would much rather have them add to the Maryland setting than move to NY.

Nicole said...

I agree that in real life, not everyone who sees a psychiatrist or psychologist is on the verge of a breakdown, but that wouldn't be very interesting for a television program, so I anticipate that there will be heightened issues. But the more relevant concern is whether or not she would be able to distance herself enough from Paul to properly assess his case when she is in a dependent relationship with him. It is akin to acting for a relative, which is also never a good idea, because will she have the ability to bring an impartial critical eye to the case. This is what I hope the show does in a realistic manner, because most rules of professional conduct for lawyers (yes they do exist) require that a lawyer only take a case if he or she is competent to take a case, and competency includes more than just skill, but also acknowledging any limitations on judgment.
If this is addressed in some way, then I'll accept the premise, otherwise, I will probably end up yelling at the television, as I do with most legal shows that compromise reality for "dramatic" purposes.

Matthew said...

I see. It was the comment about "not being stable enough to handle her own issues" that threw me a bit and made me think you were saying something other than what you were evidently saying. I absolutely agree about the potential conflict, but it will be interesting to see how they handle it.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I should add that Hope's character is also a former patient who returns to therapy after Paul sees her about the suit.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to see Thurman, he was GREAT!!! I hope the "Hope" story line doesn't get all romantic. I thought Laura's story was the real klunker last season (way too unrealistic and in NO way interesting imo). I thought it somewhat crippled the show.

Good interview Alan!

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah I can't wait to see Mahoney, what a brilliant choice!!! I'm envious of whomever saw him at Steppenwolf. It would be great to see John and Glynn in scenes together. I know, very unlikely here.

Anonymous said...

"In Treatment" got some love at the Golden Globes last night (congrats, Gabriel!); I hope that translates into increased ratings!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why Mia Wasikowska didn't get nominated for a Golden Globe while both Melissa George and Dianne Wiest did. They were all three good, but Wasikowska was a revelation... But I stopped caring about the Globes years ago because of the Wire snubbing.

ZucchiniFlower said...

I agree about Mia Wasikowska. Her performance was astounding, and her American accent perfect (she is Australian). I also believed that Paul was at his best being a therapist with Sophie. He was pitch perfect at all times with her. Having his buttons pushed by the others revealed his own issues, or hints about them.

I don't like this idea of Hope being his patient and lawyer. What if he loses the case? Won't her possible guilt about it infect the therapeutic relationship? It's asking for trouble, and I don't believe Paul would do it, regardless of their history.

I did not enjoy last season's couple and only watched them to learn more about Paul.

I love the new scheduling format. I used to wait for 12 am Monday, and watch all the episodes for the week On Demand, at once. I was furious, one week, when the Sophie episode wasn't available until Tuesday. What frustration!

I would have been so upset if this show had not been renewed. I'm relieved the new show runner is from another favorite, Criminal Intent.
Thanks for coming onboard!

Anonymous said...

It's funny; in this entire interview, you forget to mention that this material is not yours. It comes from Israel and THEY, not you, have written it. You change here and there to fit it to American life, but the story lines are not yours. Please, give credit where it's due.
Thank you

Alan Sepinwall said...

Perhaps you missed this quote:

First of all, I have to give props. This was based on an Israeli series, the broad storylines and characters.