The series that makes you happy to watch other people's heads get shrunk, In Treatment, is back for a second season of angry singletons, unhappy children, and miserable marrieds. And they let it all hang out on the sofa belonging to Gabriel Byrne's Dr. Paul Weston. The new sessions bring us a fresh group of patients, as Dr. Paul speaks in soothing tones to:
Mia (indie queen Hope Davis), a successful lawyer coping badly with middle-aged loneliness; April (Milk's Alison Pill), a twentysomething architecture student diagnosed with cancer she's not sure she wants to have treated; Oliver (Dirty Laundry's Aaron Shaw), an 11-year-old caught in the middle of his parents' impending divorce; and Walter (Frasier's John Mahoney), a high-powered executive prone to panic attacks.
As it was last season, each patient gets his or her own episode a half-hour HBO session with a fifth installment given over to Dr. Paul's own therapy visit to his mentor-shrink, Gina, played by the ever-serene Dianne Wiest. (Consult not your doctor but HBO's schedule for its two-episodes-on-Sunday, three-episodes-on-Monday rollout of each five-episode ''week,'' plus reruns.)
But if you didn't watch In Treatment last season, don't worry they've made it easy to climb into everyone's id. Dr. Paul has moved from Maryland to Brooklyn after divorcing his wife (Battlestar Galactica's mighty Michelle Forbes we can only hope she continues to pop up for more excellent, bile-emitting cameos). This breakup enabled the show to jettison Paul's previous, superb group of patients. But fans, do not fear: Every one of the new clients exerts a strong emotional pull.
If I had to narrow it to two standouts, I'd pick April, a sullen girl barely hiding her cancer fears behind disbelief and hostility. Pill's performance captures all the shadings of a creative young woman who's decided she's doomed to die.
And if you know John Mahoney only as Frasier's lovable-grump dad, you'll be bowled over by his transformation into a tough-as-nails executive so busy as a corporate control-freak, he can't see the damage he's doing to himself.
Okay, I can't narrow it to just two. My heart also breaks for little Oliver as he listens to the squabbles of his parents (Russell Hornsby and Sherri Saum).
I'd be in denial, though, if I didn't admit I look forward most to the sessions between Byrne and Wiest. Watching these two wily pros both as actors and their characters debate and deflect each other's questions and answers is such a pleasure, I wish we were seeing full, real-time sessions. (After all, as HBO subscribers, aren't we paying for them?)
In Treatment may be the most habit-forming TV show on the air. As I settled in for a fresh round of advice and repressed memories, I was reminded of the therapist's famous last line in Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint: ''Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?'' Yes. A