Review: HBO's 'In Treatment'

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HBO puts viewers back on the couch for a second season of its series In Treatment. Gabriel Byrne returns as psychotherapist Dr. Paul West and, as before, the show focuses on a different patient's session (including West's own with his therapist) for each of its half-hour installments.

No doubt that means real-life therapists in the audience will wonder: Does West actually charge his patients for a 30-minute hour - and, if so, how does he do it?

Viewers who were psyched to see the good doctor hang out his shingle the first time will welcome the show's return with its formula - strengths, but also weaknesses - basically intact. One of the few changes is in the scheduling, with HBO consolidating weekly airings over two nights - debuting two episodes each Sunday and three on Monday - rather than over five consecutive weeknights.

Aside from Byrne and returning cast member Dianne Wiest (as fellow shrink Dr. Gina Toll), season two offers a quartet of new patients: Mia (Hope Davis), a once-and-future patient who's also defending West in a malpractice suit; April (Alison Pill), a college student diagnosed with cancer; Oliver (Aaron Shaw), an 11-year-old coping with his parents' impending divorce; and Walter (John Mahoney), an insomniac CEO prone to anxiety attacks.

As we learn in the exposition-crammed opener, the recently divorced West has relocated from Maryland to New York. (The fact that he's new to the neighborhood is evident in the fact that West will open his front door in the middle of the night to anyone claiming to have a delivery.)

The series is primarily set in the confines of the cluttered living room where West sees his patients. As a result, the show has a dark, almost claustrophobic look and feel.

The first episode's shift in locale to a light-filled office with open views of the city actually feels like a breath of fresh air - even if it is a legal office.

The "action" consists of long, sedentary doctor-patient exchanges; and other than the actors' entrances and exits, the closest thing to movement is Byrne's Irish brogue drifting in and out of the conversation.

The overall effect is theatrical, with the focus on the actors and what they're saying. But the dialogue often sounds too scripted to ring true - you can almost hear the sound of writers' keyboards - and the way characters' inner feelings are revealed is often obvious or pat.

Still, Byrne is terrific, especially when he goes up against another great performer like Mahoney. That's when In Treatment defies the odds and proves that two people just sitting around talking can hold a viewer's attention, even if their therapist is watching the clock.

The second season of In Treatment bows on HBO Sunday April 5 at 9 p.m.

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