The Trouble with Spikol

In Treatment gets into a shrink's head, with mixed results.

By Liz Spikol
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 13, 2008

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Unhappy talk: As therapist Paul, Byrne is more

I've never experienced erotic transference with a therapist. How could I? I have a terrible track record.

There was Dr. M., a gray-haired button of a woman with a speech impediment whose office was decorated with horses--wallpaper, light fixtures, figurines, even her chair was part saddle. I felt no attraction.

There was Dr. L.: tall, angry, stick-thin and so cold I thought the pockmarks on her face--a legacy of agonizing acne, I hoped--would freeze from the chill. You've heard of the Theater of Cruelty? Dr. L. was Therapy of Cruelty. It wasn't sexy.

Then there was Dr. B.: beer-bellied, in his 60s with wavy gray hair and a futzy mustache. He always wore loafers that seemed a size too small. Fat little feet do nothing for me.

My current psychiatrist is younger and less unattractive than all the others, which I realize is damning with faint praise, and maybe a reason I should lie to him about which paper I write for. Despite his being funny, kind and smart, I've never felt anything remotely like attraction.

He's my doctor. He's a professional. He provides a service and I pay him for it. And it isn't sex.

Of course I have no idea how I'd feel if Gabriel Byrne were my shrink. He's pretty hot.

On HBO's newest series In Treatment, Byrne plays Paul, a psychoanalyst. Paul works out of his home office, which has a separate entrance for patients and a separate bathroom with an unreliable toilet--which, believe it or not, figures quite prominently.

Each show is named for a day of the week--the one on which it airs--and the same patient shows up to that time slot each week.

It's a nifty idea. In a way, the viewer is Paul.

When we tune in on Monday we know we're going to have a session with Laura, the pretty anesthesiologist who's experiencing erotic transference.

On Tuesday we'll see Alex, the cocky Navy pilot who accidentally bombed a school filled with 16 children.

Wednesdays we're with Sophie, the 16-year-old gymnast who rode her bike into speeding traffic and came to Paul to find out if she did it deliberately.

Thursday is marriage counseling with Jake and Amy, a tiresome couple trying to decide whether to have another kid.

And Fridays, well, after a week like that, Paul has to get some help himself, so he meets with Gina (Dianne Wiest), his former supervisor with whom he has a troubled relationship. (These contentious exchanges between Byrne and Wiest are the strongest scenes by far.)

In between, Paul struggles with his wife and son. But only briefly, because each episode is less than a half-hour--shorter, even, than most therapy sessions, and shorter, certainly, than most HBO series' episodes.

Watching therapy sessions should be voyeuristic fun. We get to listen to all kinds of confessions, and then consider how we might respond if we were sitting in Paul's chair. We also imagine ourselves as Paul's greatest critics. Did he really just say Jake and Amy should get an abortion? Wow. That's messed up.

When Gina points out that therapists aren't monitored, we know the truth: We're the monitors. We're keeping score, like flies on the wall, but with higher IQs.

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