I spent a good chunk of yesterday flying home from New Mexico, where I’d gone to do a “Breaking Bad” set visit and some interviews. (Look for that stuff much closer to the show’s premiere, on a date in July TBD.) My flights didn’t have wifi, so my only chance to plug into the world was during a brief layover in Houston, in which I saw on Twitter that HBO had canceled “In Treatment.”
My reaction was neither surprise, since the show was niche-y and low-rated even for HBO, nor sadness, since I felt that the season 3 finale – in which Gabriel Byrne’s tortured but brilliant shrink decided to give up on therapy – seemed the perfect end to a show that had started repeating itself a bit too much. Instead, I mainly thought back on all the incredible performances – most obviously by Byrne, but also by Dianne Wiest and Amy Ryan as his own therapists, by a young Mia Wasikowska as a suicidal gymnast, by Alison Pill as a college girl with cancer, John Mahoney as an executive under siege, Irrfan Khan as a miserable immigrant and so, so many more – the gorgeous writing (led by Rodrigo Garcia in the first season, Warren Leight in the second and Dan Futterman and Anya Epstein in the third) and intimate direction (led throughout by Paris Barclay). It was a great show – at times during its run, it was the show I obsessed on more than any other – but it told its stories, told them well, and it ended. And given the ratings, and the incredible workload on Byrne (who was in virtually every scene of every episode, 4-5 episodes per week each season), and the way it tended to burn out the head writer each year, it’s not a surprise that HBO would decide three seasons was enough.
But when I finally awoke from post-red eye sleep, I discovered that “In Treatment” wasn’t exactly canceled. According to HBO, “It’s true that we have no plans to continue with In Treatment as previously formatted. However, we are in continued conversations with the executive producers to find another way to continue telling these rich stories.”
What “another way” means is unclear. An occasional TV-movie? A weekly series that was just about Byrne’s character in therapy? A more traditional drama that abandoned the conceit of structuring each episode as a therapy session and just told us the story of Dr. Paul Weston’s life, sometimes in session, sometimes out?
Again, I feel like this was a fantastic show, but one that had run its course in its current incarnation. At the same time, that format – in which we essentially got 4-5 one-act plays each week, pairing Byrne with a variety of known and unknown actors at the top of their games – is what made it special. Paul’s a rich enough character that I could see him as the lead in a more traditional show, but it wouldn’t have the raw, vulnerable, honest quality of the first three seasons at their best.
We’ll see. This could turn out to be a situation like the “Deadwood” movies, where HBO talks about a follow-up project to soften the blow of cancellation but has no real plans to do it. And if Paul Weston comes back onto my TV, I’d watch to see how the guy’s doing – and to enjoy the brilliance of Gabriel Byrne – but I really like the idea that the last we ever see of him is him disappearing into a sea of humanity on a Brooklyn sidewalk, never quite knowing if he’d be able to find the happiness he strived so much to help his patients achieve.
What does everybody else think? Would you want “In Treatment” back in a different format? Would that no longer be “In Treatment” to you? Or are you also okay with letting Paul vanish into the crowd?
By Alan Sepinwall – HBO cancels therapy drama, but may find ‘another way’ for series to continue