More than a decade after the award-winning HBO show In Treatment came to an end, Uzo Aduba (Orange Is the New Black, Mrs. America) fearlessly and captivatingly takes over from Gabriel Byrne in a revival fourth season of the series, premiering on May 23 on HBO/Crave.
“This was the first time I was working on a role where I could feel so much of myself in her,” Aduba revealed. “It made it harder to leave her at the end of the day.”
“I'm not sure I was successful every time, if I'm being honest, leaving her at the stage and not bringing her back to my house. I do think though, that was needed for this project.”
In Treatment, the American version based on the Israeli series Be’ Tipul, began in 2008 with Byrne as therapist Dr. Paul Weston. At the core of the series was its signature format where each episode is one patient’s therapy session, largely consisting of just two or three-way dialogue in one room.
The intimate almost play-like structure remains in this new season of the show, with Aduba setting the tone in an emotional and striking performance as Dr. Brooke Taylor who, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is seeing her patients in her midcentury Baldwin Hills, California home or via virtual, remote sessions.
“At first you look at the whole house and you're like, I have all this playing space, until they're like, no you're sitting in this chair,” Aduba said about working in the In Treatment format. “I'm not going to lie, it was a really fun exercise, if I'm being really honest, from an actor's perspective.”
“It was really interesting to find who Brooke was,...how does she exist in a room with only this chair as her playground.”
The actor’s gestures, how she sits, the way Dr. Taylor responds to her patients, are expertly executed, so intriguing that you're hanging on her every move and word.
“I started to establish a vocabulary for her in the chair and then it became really thrilling if you had a Brooke episode, that wasn't just sitting down, to move around because...you start to realize, Oh, this woman actually is pretty physical,” Aduba explained.
'It was very naked in that way'
Showrunners for In Treatment Jennifer Schuur (My Brilliant Friend, Unbelievable) and Joshua Allen (Empire), identify the format of the show as a core way to push the series forward, without leaving the past behind, above and beyond including Dr. Weston in the mix.
“We love In Treatment,...it is a really special format and we certainly did not want to detach ourselves from that in any significant way,” Schuur said. “We did want to find - how do we find a through line from the original series in America to our series today and it felt like a very natural transition to have Dr. Paul Weston be Dr. Taylor's mentor, to be her supervisor, like Diane Wiest was to him."
“For the fans of the show who are coming back, this is for them but it also doesn't feel like you had to have watched all of those seasons, 10 years earlier, in order to engage with the show today.”
Schuur is definitely accurate in saying that this new era of In Treatment can connect to fans of the previous three seasons, or new audiences, particularly because at the core of the series are conversations about mental health, racial injustice, class disparity, toxic masculinity and grief, to name a few. Given the format, these topics are all addressed in a more direct way than usually seen in television.
“I think sometimes in other formats the message can get a little muddy, which was actually one of our big challenges on the show, was that we didn't have anywhere else to cut to, we didn't have anywhere else to go,” Allen said. “It was very naked in that way.”
“It was a challenge but also because of that, you're really just getting to the nitty gritty, there is no metaphor, there is no allegory. These people are wrestling with what they're wrestling with in real time with someone who is doing her absolute best every single day to help them through it, and I think that's probably the most direct platform on which to address these issues.”
'Rarely have we seen that conversation happen with someone like myself'
One aspect of therapy that is explored in this season of In Treatment is addressing stigma around mental health, including spotlighting a Black woman as the therapist.
“We've had stories told about mental health before, I've been on the opposite end of that discussion before, but rarely have we seen that conversation happen with someone like myself as the vessel for helping to facilitate that story,” Aduba said.
“I thought it was important to see new faces occupying that conversation and [my hope] more than anything is that, that serves as a conversation starter. A catalyst of some kind for people of colour not only to see themselves as patients, but also as therapists, that they exist and are out there.”
Allen revealed that he personally understands the stigma around therapy, sharing that he has struggled with depression and anxiety.
“It even takes a lot for me to say that to a group of international journalists and the fact that it still takes me a minute to admit that to people means that I feel like it's something that needs to be hidden,” he said.
“You admit that you committed crimes, you don't admit that you struggle with a condition that millions of other people struggle with. I also have asthma, I have no problem telling people I have asthma... I felt like it was really important for the show to do what we can to de-stigmatize it because it doesn't mean that you're crazy, it doesn't mean that you are somehow going to be a less productive member of society, it just means that you need to seek help.”
While Aduba leads the way in this series, it is also full over powerful performances by Dr. Taylor’s patients. Anthony Ramos plays Eladio, a gay, Latino at-home health aid living with a wealthy white family, and Quintessa Swindell plays Laila, a Black, queer woman whose grandmother forces her to go to therapy before she goes to college. John Benjamin Hickey is a third patient, Colin, a white collar criminal whose freedom depends on Dr. Taylor’s analysis.
Each patient’s sessions were written by the same writer, a pattern that was adopted in the first three seasons of the series, with each writer having personal, lived experience with the core aspects of each patient’s story.
“We wanted to have a certain guardianship of each patient,” Allen said. “We wanted each patient to be written by a person who understood...just what it is to walk around in that body.”
“It's a wide range of issues from...white male privilege, to racial injustice, to the experience of being a Black woman in the world, to sort of a class disparity that exists,” Schuur said.
“I'm hopeful that people will watch and feel moved by seeing people wrestle with these things… It may not be the most satisfying ending for everyone, but I do think it will ultimately be hopeful, and I hope that, that is what the world takes away from the experience of therapy and watching this.”