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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

HBO's Extraordinary "In Treatment" Drama-Series: 1st in a Series

Read This Buggy Article First If You're Interested in All 9 of the In Treatment Series

INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS

A New Series Starts Today (March 25th, 2008) 

Don't worry.  Prof bug’s unfinished series on Libertarian thought --- what it is and what its strengths and weaknesses are: especially in the international realm --- will continue in a few days, its fifth and last installment already written and in need only of a little more single-minded reflection and donkey-work to be brought to fruition and published here.  

In the meantime, current buggy visitors, you need to shift mental course and zero in on a radically different topic . . . not just today, but for a couple of weeks or more.  It has nothing to do with politics or economic, this new topic --- not by a stretch; rather, with an edgy, emotion-pounding TV-drama of head-spinning creativity . . .  a crackling psychological thriller, if you want, which has nothing to do with what many of you first imagine when you see or hear the word thriller evoked. 

With what then?

With a Remarkably Brilliant TV Drama-Series, Most Likely the Greatest in TV History

An exaggeration?  Not in prof bug’s view. 

Produced by HBO, In Treatment is the title of this glittering artistic achievement . . . in a dozen different ways, and maybe more than that, an extraordinary breakthrough in dramatic creativity on television.  Yes, anywhere.  Well, to be exact . . . in the US and Britain, the two countries consistently producing the best televised drama.  There's one exception: Israel --- where the original series on which In Treatment is based first appeared a year or two ago, with the entire Israeli nation, it has been reported, glued to their TV sets through each of its emotion-blasting episodes

Does that detract from HBO's artistic triumph? 

Not much, if at all.  In its setting, its strikingly sharp idiomatic language, and its startling ability to capture the inner strife and self-deceptions of 8 complex, wholly believable, up-to-date Americans, In Treatment has been thoroughly Americanized.  Then, too, several of its gripping episodes are entirely original, the creation of the American writing team --- as are the brio and stunning virtuoso acting and direction.  For that matter, none of the actors or the two directors watched any of the Israeli series, and quite simply because they didn't want to start preparing their demanding character-roles with any preconceived notions of what their Israeli predecessors had done

Nor Is That All

In the movie industry, it's not at all uncommon for Hollywood to take a book --- say, James Fenimore Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, something of a confused, half-mangled classic ---and turn it into a much better shaped story and produce a brilliant classic film, the 1936 version with Gary Cooper.  Fifty six years later, Michael Mann then wrote and shot an ever better film, based on the 1936 version, with the result that it stands out as one of the three or four greatest and most enduring of "western" films . . . always remembering here that the western frontier in those days of the French-and-Indian wars of the 1750s was the Hudson River. 

The same comments apply to several films that have adapted and improved on the original theatrical dramas, not to mention making them live on into the future thanks to DVD's. 

A recent book-length study of the two mediums argues ---  American Drama in the Age of Film the name of the book --- puts the fruitful, cross-fertilizing interchange between them this way (according to the publisher's blurb): Zander Brietzke (the author) . . .  

"examines the strengths and weaknesses of both the dramatic and cinematic arts to confront the standard arguments in the film-versus-theater debate. Using widely known adaptations of ten major plays, Brietzke seeks to highlight the inherent powers of each medium and draw conclusions not just about how they differ, but how they ought to differ as well. He contrasts both stage and film productions of, among other works, David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, Sam Shepard's True West, Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Margaret Edson's Wit, Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, and August Wilson's The Piano Lesson. In reading the dual productions of these works, Brietzke finds that cinema has indeed stolen much of theater's former thunder, by making drama more intimate, and visceral than most live events."  

 So what can we conclude?

Easy enough to say.  However much In Treatment has been inspired and adapted from the Israeli series, it is a huge artistic triumph in its own right --- and not just in TV drama.  Most likely, too, it will be the version shown elsewhere in the world, and the one remembered by its devotees.

The Plot-Line, The Characters, and The Cast of Actors

On HBO's web-site you'll find terse summaries of the In Treatment's plot --- to the extent it has one in a conventional sense --- along with photos of the main character-actors, some eight in all, brief bios and, particularly useful, two-minute clips featuring each of those characters. 

So take a few minutes, follow the link, and click on the icons of the 8 first characters, starting with Paul Weston . . . chief character who anchors every episode . . . played with scintillating virtuosity by the great Irish actor, Gabriel Byrne.  A 53 year old psychoanalyst, Paul is in the throes of severe mid-life crisis: increasingly burnt-out in his profession, aware that his 25 year marriage to Kate is fraying apart --- no sex, no effective communication between them for a year, no shared life of any sort really save for mechanical routines  --- and longing for for an escape from all his rote tedium and unraveling marriage into a new, high-energy, exciting life by hooking up with a confused, erotically charged 30 year old patient of his named Laura . . . a gorgeous sex kitten who is pure seductive provocation, with an extra-ripe sex-life she talks about in lurid detail. 

Be sure, if you haven’t been a chronic viewer, to watch the two-minute clips; they will convey faithfully enough the sharp, emotional force of each episode.  And since the HBO photos don’t do justice to some of the female actresses, you might enjoy clicking on these links:  Michelle Forbes who plays Kate;  Melissa George who plays Laura ; and Embeth Davidtz who plays Amy, married in battlefield conditions to Jake and treated by Paul Weston in couples therapy.

A Brief Comment or Two By Way of Clarification for Non-Viewers

Apropos of Gabriel-Paul’s dilemmas, professional, moral, and guilt-ridden, note quickly: even a brief tryst with a patient --- not to mention a long-lasting bond that Paul fantasizes wishfully and carnally about,  and that Laura yearns for on her side ---would collide with his professional ethics and even common morality.  It also creates a gnawing sense of guilt in Weston toward Kate, --- and for a good year or so, the period in which he has been treating and falling for Laura in therapy before In Treatment starts . . .  during which time. both he and Laura --- a helplessly calculating, confused, self-hating sex-kitten, yet in many ways an admirable 30 year old woman emotionally battered in childhood and who nonetheless became a very solid, very responsible physician --- have fallen in love: or so they think, each caught up in the standard psychoanalytical tangle of eroticized transference. 

Meaning? 

Meaning a projection onto others of unconscious, high-voltage feelings and conflicts that stretch back to a person’s troubled, care-worn childhood relations with his or her parents --- and that have been repressed into the inky-dark underground of her or his psyche.  Needless to add, Paul --- a decent, justifiably renown analyst despite his worn-out professional crisis --- is fully aware that many of his carnal fantasies involving Laura reflect his own feverishly excited, erotic counter-transference . . . doubly aware, for that matter, since he knows full well that Laura is a walking male-entrapment device, unable to relate to men except by means of her inevitable sex-power dominance; and also for other pathological reasons that seethe and fester, unresolved and fully repressed, ever since her own anguished childhood traumas starting at age five, when she couldn’t prevent her mother from dying and was hopelessly in the care of a criminally detached and apathetic father.

And yet . . . and yet, in spite of his technical training and years of practicing psychoanalytical therapy, Paul finds himself helplessly in love with Laura.

   

 The irony doesn't stop there.  It shoots up and multiplies in totally unpredictable ways as In Treatment unfolds day after day, for weeks on end. 

You never know from one episode to another what fully to believe in the revelations of that day or week, whether coaxed out by the two psychoanalysts, Paul and Gina, from their patients or from what they themselves say or do.  Sooner or later, what you think you’ve zeroed in on solidly about a particular character in one episode is bound to turn out wrong in the next, turned topsy-turvy by new events or revelations.  And especially so in the manic, folie-a-trois that entangles the lives of Paul, Laura, and Kate in a complicated thicket of fantasies, blame-shifting resentments, and blatant wishful thinking.

  

Consider what happens in the first week between Paul and his wife Kate . . . a dark-haired beauty in her own right and a good 12 years younger than Paul, who, as it happens, is trapped in a mid-life crisis of her own. She is particularly vexed toward Paul, who she knows has become totally disengaged from interest in her --- not that she is aware until much later in the series that he's fallen in love with Laura.   In a burst of testy, stored-up anger, she gives Paul a seething look and discloses that she's been having a scorching suck-slurp-and-screwfest for several months with a younger man. 

Paul flinches, momentarily shocked.  An instant later, he's furious and demands all the details.  "Use your imagination!" Kate snaps back.  He refuses; dammit! he doesn't want to be left imagining the worst.

Kate stares coldly, then shrugs . . . happy to give him the worst.  In a series of rippling taunts, she derides Paul's sex-savvy compared to her new Big-Pecker Penis-Doll: her high-potent stud, she implies, caresses her with blissfully lewd know-how; he sucks and licks her with far more down-and-dirty expertise; and to top it all off--- Paul's abuse compounded --- her hero-cocksman moves his jumbo-size male-tool inside her with such wondrous thrusts and joyful twistings and pulsings that soon, in a matter of minutes, bursts of incendiary explosions erupt in her hot furnace in rapid salvos, sending one surge after another of exquisite pleasure racing through her blazing underbelly and up and along the length of her feverish spine into her ecstatically floating, spinning brain . . . yes, over and over again; one moaning rapture after another in a tidal pull of orgasmic spasms.   Or so she hints at . . . just enough, apparently, to provoke his mind into lewd gnawing imagery.

Ouch! Take that, you bastard! you asshole! (Nifty bugged-out porno-lingo, wouldn't you say . . . purple prose and all? Lots of fun anyway to search around for the right lewd words to convey the carnally fevered imagery in this and other bugged out commentaries on In Treatment )

  

What, when you think about it, could be more calculated to pommel any man’s male-pride than such cruel put-downs?  These cutting taunts reflect accurately enough Kate's harsh attitudes towards her husband, who --- for a year now --- has withdrawn from any effort to treat her as a wife he desires and loves and expects to share his life with.  Can you really blame her for her rush of fury?  Just before the flashing put-downs begin, she asks him bluntly: “When did you decide to become such an asshole, Paul?”  . . . a question, let’s face it, that probably three-quarters of married American women would like to thrust at their own clueless self-distancing husbands ---  at any rate, after five or six years of living together.  Come to that, a good 2/3 of first marriages in California always end in divorce.  It's doubtful they end on a cordial note.

Small wonder that Paul, near the end of the week, contacts Gina, his former supervising psychoanalyst at the institute where he was trained and begins renewed psychotherapy with her.  Keep in mind one other thing.  Almost every emotion-jarring conflict that Paul detects and analyzes skillfully in the couple's therapy between Jake and Amy every Tweek turns out, sooner or later, to mark his own self-deceiving relations with Kate . . . Paul, in his private life, every bit as caught in a swirl of high-octane confusion and feverish self-deception as everyone of his patients is. 

Enough said, let’s hope, to give you a rough working-idea of what the series is about.  Its great artistic triumphs remain to be set out.

PART TWO
IN TREATMENT’S BREAKTHROUGH MERITS EXAMINED

Several Stand Out --- Not Just Remarkable For TV Drama, But Likely Unique

  * By itself, In Treatment’s demanding long schedule --- some 43 episodes in all, with a daily half-hour grind Monday through Friday for over eight weeks  --- is itself without parallel in television history . . . nothing like that ever before.

  * So, too, is its odd singular setting.  Save for one episode, all the pulsating, emotion-packed drama unfolds in just two home-offices that belong to two psychoanalysts.  Could there be a more cramped, cooped-up setting for nearly 9 weeks of drama?  Hard to imagine any, no?   And for a total of 43 episodes!  Click on the earlier HBO link for a view of Paul Weston’s home office, where he sees five patients Monday through Thursday, the Thursday therapy-session involving a couple whose unraveling marriage resembles something out of a padded-cell on a psycho ward. 

  * Then, too, there’s its off-the-wall innovative action --- or rather, lack of action.  On the surface, it all seems cramped and static.  At the start of each episode, that day’s distraught patient arrives for his or her psychotherapy; they sit down on a couch facing the analysts; and for the next 30 minutes, day after day, the patients and the analysts do nothing but talk and listen, interrupted with some nervous, drawn-out silences in between as the each of the character actors express the turmoil of their turbulent mind-grinding emotions. 

And that’s it; nothing more. Nothing more exciting, anyway, in a conventional sense. 

Just talk, talk, talk --- vocally startling and unpredictable, full of nervy intensity and apt, self-exposing moments . . . with no let-up in the pace and drive of the words and emotionally charged body action except for those fitful moody silences, made famous in the theater by Samuel Becket and Harold Pinter. 

  * There’s another brilliant merit that needs to be mentioned too.  Everything you assume about the two psychoanalysts and their patients in the first two or three weeks will end up flip-side wrong as the series progresses.  Irony, ambiguity, and unpredictability about the lives of its characters are what great drama manages to capture, precisely because our own lives are like that.  As time wears on, very little that we had assumed in our teens and early adult life ever materialize; not really  . . . whether in our relations with those we love or in our careers or, most ironically of all, however unsettling, in our relationship to our inner lives. 

No other televised drama I can think of --- either  in the US or Britain --- remotely captures all this topsy-turvy flux in real life as In Treatment does, with one blast of uncoiled surprise after another . . . not least, in the life of Paul Weston, the Byrnes character who anchors every one of the 43 episodes, both as a psychotherapist with lots of professional insight and as a worn-out husband, a would-be lover of a beautiful young patient of his, and a patient with the second psychoanalyst, Gina, who has no insight at all into his turbulent problem-churning life.  And everything he tells his patients he can’t do what they all ask of him --- make crucial life-choices for them as their anguished dilemmas flare into the open --- he wants Gina to do for him.  As it happens, Gina --- his former supervising analyst at the prestigious institute where Paul was trained --- does try to oblige him now and then. And what happens each time, at any rate until the 40th episode?  Like his own resistant patients, he turns confrontational and defies her with testy intensity 

And yet, for all these breakthroughs merits, In Treatment’s core triumph lies elsewhere . . .

Specifically, In Its Crackling Thematic Subject-Matter and Its Superlative Rendition
and Character-Acting

Tersely put, what makes In Treatment a peerless, near- perfect drama is the keenly focused way it probes remorselessly, with drive and raw energy, the edgy, restless human condition in American life these days --- at any rate, observe swiftly, as lived by the well-educated, discontented, high-strung middle and upper-middle classes; but obviously not just confined to them ---with nearly all of our own existential, psychological, and sexual dilemmas and fantasies brought acutely alive with raw nervy energy and high-coiled excitement by the sizzling performances of the various character-actors.  What brilliant acting!  What a dramatic script!  What a breakthrough triumph . . . nothing like it in television annals!  In its daily, strung-out length, its intellectual demands, and its repetitive, brain-jolting revelations, the HBO series adds up, quite simply, to a dazzling artistic creation that pushes it to the pinnacle of televised drama . . . yes, way ahead of the Wire, Deadwood, the Sopranos, Homicide on the Street, and NYPD, not to mention the very best of BBC drama.

This key point deserves to be carried a step or two farther.

With its sharp, unrelenting scrutiny of the edgy intensity and insecurities of its startlingly recognizable characters, In Treatment has managed to unzip and lay bare most of the nagging discontents, self-deceptions, wishful thinking, angry resentments, and erotically charged fantasies that seethe and fester in American life these days, intensified by a swirl of constant, turbulent change.  Only eight fictive men and women, it’s true, dominate the series.  Can they stand in for all 300 million Americans?

The Answer: Obviously Not 

No drama, novel, or poetry can do that.  They can only focus on a few characters, no more.  But like all great drama through the ages, In Treatment --- by burrowing deeply below the skin into the murky depths of its characters’ confused and troubled lives --- has simultaneously flicked and jabbed and brought awake our own deeply hidden wounds, conflicts, and fantasies, forcing at least some of them and maybe most out of our inky dark underground and into our conscious awareness . . . at any rate, it does so if you’re a chronic self-reflective viewer.  You just can’t help it. 

Those initial viewers who deserted the series early on --- and, understand:  it’s the worst-watched HBO in history --- either don’t have much self-insight and capacity for candid introspection or just felt bothered and annoyed because the drama did what was intended to do: it cut too far into their fragile psyches for comfort, and they tuned out forever.  Others, of course, hardly tuned in in because they were bored after 10 minutes of talk and more talk.  Not what they’ve been conditioned by the popular mass media to expect from TV, is it?  No matter.  No help for it.  They’ll continue to peg along in life as they are now, uptight, unenlightened, and unchanging . . . unable to figure out why their lives don’t measure up by the comfy standards of entertainment and titillation and their hyped up sports heroes.

Not that it matters.  Who cares? 

It’s dumbfounding enough to learn that only about 50% of all college graduates in the US even read a book a year --- any, mind you; even a Stephen King horror story.  Might as well expect the average TV viewer to watch a Shakespearean play, reflect on a Jasper Johns art exhibition, or listen to a recording of La Boheme or Miles Davis. 

For the rest of us, it’s much different.  Discomforting as In Treatment may be --- its high-potent force varying with our age, self-insight, and introspective powers --- we can easily appreciate how the eight weeks of strung-out existential struggles and painful psychic dilemmas of the fictive characters parallel our own vexing discontents and, at times our flaring distress as well. 

Is any of this surprising? 

No, Not Really --- Not, Anyway, If You Know Much Great Drama Over the Ages

And that’s because such masterly brain-grinding drama, however rare in history, has always had this kind of jolting emotional intensity. 

Aristotle fully understood this over 2400 years ago.  He noted how Greek tragic-drama could bring about a cathartic impact on its spectators’ deep existential longings, worries, and anxieties.  In plainer terms that bear on In Treatment, try watching its eight unsettled, suffering characters struggle through 43 episodes over eight weeks --- and with markedly uneven results --- to confront their frayed and frazzled troubles and illusions and see if there isn’t one jangling shock after another of unreleased self-recognition churning up out of your own mental depths. 

Yes, watch and see if you aren’t fully drawn into the maelstrom of the characters’ aching struggles to express their mental tumult and distress week after week --- their pain and anguish, often aggravated by the therapy, not relieved -- as they enter their analysts’ home offices, sit down on a couch nervously, and begin venting all their hurt, confusion, and self-lacerating guilt or overwrought angry resentments about themselves and others while the therapists listen and struggle on their own to make sense of what’s real or what’s fantasy and deception and then interpret and analyze the hidden, subterranean causes of their patients’ turbulent troubles . . . all this, mind you, by virtue of the tense rippling talk; nothing else.

So watch these demoralized characters interact, nervously, with themselves and others in the cast.  Follow how their emotion-blasted lives uncoil to view  Reflect on how their mangled conflicts and charged high-voltage identity struggles may at times mirror your own in recognizable ways.  And then see if these eight hurt baffled characters don’t just come alive in your minds and stay there, but at times seem as real to you as your spouses, children, parents, or work-colleagues. 

Or maybe, come to think of it, now and then possibly even more real.

…………………………

Some Sidebar Clarifying Remarks

(i.) Lots of questions prompted by this bugged out commentary, right?  Especially about In Treatment’s high-coiled relevance to American life these days, yes?  Ok then . . . let’s generalize madly a few moments --- nothing more possible now, without bursting the bounds of this buggy commentary --- by adding a few tidying up observations for some rounder perspective and more solid bits of evidence.

If, in the process, some of you find these wide-swinging remarks persuasive, all the better.  In that case, they should help illuminate how the personal strife and struggles of the two psychoanalysts and their distraught patients in psychotherapy aren’t confined to fictive individuals on screen --- portrayed by inspired actors with jarring shock-effects ---but spill way over those digital borders and reflect in dozens of ways our own frazzled inner life and existential struggles these days, whether you’re in your teens or middle age or older still . . . the quest for a fuller happier life never-ending, at any rate on this earth. 

And if you don’t find them persuasive?   No matter. It’s largely a personal affair anyway, and you just might be an unusually happy easy-going man or woman. 

(ii.) The first sweeping point: With obvious exceptions, restless, edgy dissatisfactions and frayed and frazzled conflicts with others --- at home, in school, in the work place or elsewhere are more and more the norm of American nowadays.  At the same time, ironically, even though these chronic tensions with others are caused in part by our inherited human condition, nothing less, they are particularly activated in American life by our seething self-discontents and inner restlessness . . .  themselves, note carefully, the outcome of our energized, high-pulsating quest for a solider, more satisfying life --- AKA self-fulfillment ---  before our inevitable disappointments and setbacks overwhelm life’s once glittering opportunities.  And that, as we’ll see in few moments, is something entirely new in human life.

The disconcerting upshot of our compulsive up-to-date quest? 

In plain English, however we define it, we’re incapable of full-tilt self-fulfillment or perhaps anything approximating it.  It’s not possible; at some level, sooner or later, all of us have to grasp this, but we continually resist doing so.  Everything in our hyped up culture and media --- even overwrought TV ads --- encourage us to think in fantasized wishes: perfect beauty, perfect health, perfect happiness thanks to this product or that souped-up image, fantastic sex on demand, and riches and gorgeous mates and the adulation of the public.  So yes, we resist facing reality.  I

In the upshot? 

Our turbulent lives are crammed with raw, aching existential dilemmas that have no resolution.  They jolt and yank us arbitrarily in the grip of a two-way mental tug.  Caught up, on one side, in a confused swirl of a non-stop search for a solid, satisfying self-identity and life, we’re lurched back again and again by both reality and chronic inner problems into a vortex of strife and conflicts: with ourselves first and foremost, and with almost everyone else as well . . .  whether spouses, family members, work colleagues, and at times friends, the two sides of these brittle self- and other-directed battles, needless to add, mutually aggravating, full of kinetically charged and unresolved force. 

(iii.)  And it gets worse. 

Because, as you see . . . all these seething identity-issues and existential problems of a narcissistic sort that are afoot in our psyches have been activated and encouraged with perverse, high-pulsating force by all the new and recent turbulent changes set loose in American life since 1960 or so. 

The list of these upheavals is numerous.  There’s the unsettling flux in family relations --- with over 65% of Californians divorcing their partners in a first marriage.  And the steady erosion in traditional authority patterns --- whether between wives and husbands or parents and children or, on a larger plane, in the workplace and most of our formal institutions.  And the battering cultural challenges ---  encouraged further by birth-control pills --- that have turned topsy-turvy traditional sexual mores, along with the shattered remnants of the sexual double-standards that once prevailed for women starting in high school or even junior high-school.  And the further liberation of women in other key ways ---not least in full-time work, which leaves women no longer dependent wholly on their husbands’ good-will for income-support and acquiescence in unsatisfying sexual relations with them. 

Then, too, there’re the high-pounding changes in our economic lives. 

Few of us, if any, escape the nervy sense of endless personal flux around us, not least in our work lives as the US economy has been revolutionized and made more competitive and demanding the last several decades . . . owing to the double-whammy impact of relentless globalization and endless technical changes.  These days, who can be sure, even way into his or her forties or fifties, where they’ll be working in the future and with what need for repeated career-retraining.

(iii.) Move now onto a more wild-eyed time-scale.  Generalizing with rampant sweep, let’s take an evolutionary view of the raw internalized pressures for self-fulfillment that flare off and on in our personal lives. 

From this angle, note how all this new and jarring cultural, social, and economic flux has combined to create something entirely novel for which millions of years of human evolution have never prepared us.  How so?  Well, simply said, our ancient ancestors never had time or need for existential authenticity.  The very notion would have left them bewildered.   Until the last century or two, life for 99.9% of people and their pre-human ancestors was nothing but a daily struggle for physical survival and security: hunt and gather food where you could; find shelter away from predators --- the most dangerous of which were other humanoids and homo-sapiens; rear children and keep the family clan or tribe alive into the next generation. 

………..

The same has been true of most human life in warring territorial states and agrarian societies that began four or five thousand years ago . . . hardly a few second on the evolutionary clock. 

Life in these agrarian societies --- or out on the American frontier, where settlers and native Americans warred for domination (as did our chimp ancestors for ions and ions as well as early modern human clans and tribes, slaughtering one another and exterminating the kindred Neanderthal species --- was little different.  As recently as the early 1800s, according to a brilliant new economic history, the average human being in Europe or North America at the start of the industrial revolution lived no better in terms of food, shelter, and health than Neolithic clans 8,000 or 9,000 years ago. 

And now, at the end of the first decade of the 21st century --- after 240 years of industrial, technological, and political upheavals and revolutionary change --- we find ourselves living in a complexity of a head-spinning sort: in vast urban conglomerations, suburban spillovers, technologies and capitalist markets have satisfied all our most basic needs, 12 to 20 years of formal education demanded of us, not to mention constant retraining on the job and in our professions amid a turbulently unsettling globalized economy . . . and, the topper, a media-soaked cultural life full of constant noise and imagery that has reinforced and deepened all the fast-paced social changes mentioned a minute or two ago: marked individualism, women’s liberation, upending of traditional sexual mores, the erosion of once solid authority patterns within and outside the family, and our fantasized projections onto others of why they are so callous and nasty towards us because, after all, who could we blame for the fact that we are affluent and physically secure and professionally aspiring or accomplished --- and yet feel so edgy and rankled about things in side us and yearn, no, strive fitfully or endlessly, for a happier, self-fulfilling existence?

Who?  For most people the answer is self-evident --- not themselves!  For others, the answer isn't clear, and that's why --- demoralized and distressed --- they seek out help in some kind of psychotherapy.

(iv) The radically new psychological outcome of all these momentous changes?

Easy enough to say.  Tersely put, for all our strenuous human achievements, our species as its members live in North America or West Europe have never been prepared mentally and emotionally for life as we try to live it today.  Our basic needs have been fully satisfied: we have shelter, we’re protected from predators, we have food aplenty (or too much), our complex economy has given virtually all of us affluence never dreamed of before, and the well-to-do middle classes are highly educated --- exposed from an early age to ideas and imagery and media-generated information and entertainment that combine, amid all the recent cultural changes just mentioned, to put all of us under relentless pressure for finding meaning and personal identity in a world of complexity and flux that leave most of us without a clear inner compass at all . . . just the contrary.  Even our current psycho-lingo talk flares with such novelty, unknown in history to 99% of all humans until the last 50 years or so: life-choices, life-styles, sexual liberation, women’s liberation, gender-choice, you-only-go-around-once --- guy or girl, counter-cultures, family experimentation, and on and on . . . all picked up with head-turning speed and disseminated with even rapidity by mass media of every sort: TV, the internet, radio, CD’s, DVD’s, movies, downloaded music, text-messaging, and ubiquitous cell phone usage.

Enter the bewildered, struggling characters of In Treatment  who confront all the emotional problems and intellectual dilemmas that mark and roil the inner lives of most of us nowadays, whether we are active viewers or totally unaware of the drama’s high-pulsating creativity.

And that’s enough of the overwrought buggy survey of contemporary American life and its relevance to understanding In Treatment.

In Treatment’s Great Creative Triumph More Widely Compared

We have already argued, recall, that this remarkable series stands at the pinnacle of televised drama, here and abroad (save perhaps for the original Israeli version).  A question quickly prompts itself: what about films and the legitimate theater?  Are there recent rivals in those mediums --- say, since WWII --- that match its numerous artistic triumphs? 

Right now, prof bug can think of only a handful of plays that match In Treatment’s jarring existential insights, set out with similar high-pounding intensity and provoking similar raw rippling shocks of harsh self-recognition in the minds of its viewers --- matches it either on stage or in film . . . at any rate, over the last 60 years or so.  Only three will be mentioned.

Eugene O’Neill’s Iceman Cometh pops quickly to mind, whether in its various stage productions since 1946 or its brilliant TV adaptation in 1960 click here.   Another rival is Tennessee William’s greatest play, A Streetcar Named Desire . . .   shown for the first time on Broadway a year later, then left permanently seared on the lives of American theater lovers by its even more triumphant film version.  That emotion-pounding film was brilliantly directed by Elie Kazan, and two of Hollywood’s greatest actors ever, Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh, performed with unforgettable flair. 

Even more relevant as a rival to In Treatment --- because of its similar probing of married well-educated couples and their fractured sex lives, erotic yearnings, and restless discontents with their personal and professional failures, from which they seek emotional refuge by renouncing their earlier ambitions in life and immerse themselves in shrunk stale routines --- the best play of a more recent, equally great American dramatist:  Edward Albee’s Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf.

Prof bug originally saw this deliriously jolting play on stage in 1963.  Like everyone in the audience, he was dazzled and left full of hot-wire wonder from start to finish.  Three years later, the film production came out, and he was left even more dazzled by its feverish emotion-pounding pace, script, direction, and acting.  A chief reason for the film’s greater impact was the extraordinary hammer-like performances of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor --- backed up by two new stars, George Segal and Sandy Dennis ---who together constituted the entire cast.  Another reason was Mike Nichols inspirational direction, a breakthrough in his early career that smashed all the taboos about dialogue and subject-matter on the big screen as well as the long-standing inane limits on what was acceptable for the movie-going public.

To be continued in the next buggy article