Pox Americana

For the third season of 'In Treatment,' the American writers will shed the Israeli handlers and create a series uniquely theirs, with three new characters sitting in the patient's chair.

Tonight treatment will start for three new patients in the third season of HBO's "In Treatment." This season will depend entirely on American scriptwriters, and according to Hagai Levi, who created the show that was originally an Israeli hit, that will only help the program.

Gabriel Byrne
Gabriel Byrne.In Treatment

"There was something in previous seasons that seemed like cross-breeding, since the source of the early seasons was so Israeli. Now the scriptwriters are entirely American, and it's like watching an infant learn how to walk on its own," says Levi. "It makes me happy to see that not everything moves according to the rules of globalization - that is to say, every place has its own problems. It's impossible to use the same scriptwriters any place in the world. In my opinion, this will be the best season the series has had so far." The Salon web magazine is expecting it to be "the darkest and gloomiest season yet."

Dr. Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne ) will remain at his armchair, and continue as a brilliant psychotherapist. During the American series' first season, as in the case of the Israeli version, the series was broadcast five straight days a week; but this schedule did not suit American television broadcast schedules. In the second season, episodes were broadcast on Sundays and Mondays; this season, three patients plus Dr. Weston himself will be treated in broadcasts on Mondays and Tuesdays.

The character of Frances, one of the three new patients, will be played by Debra Winger ("An Officer and a Gentleman," "Rachel Getting Married" ). The character is a former theater and movie actress who returns to appear in a big Broadway production. She has a habit of forgetting her lines; somebody tells her that her forgetfulness might have a psychological source.

Viewers learn that her sister has terminal breast cancer; the actress wonders whether her sister's condition has affected her own health. The choice of Winger, it seems, is no coincidence, since she starred in the documentary "Searching for Debra Winger," a film about her real life as a promising actress who leaves the movie industry and then wonders about a comeback.

However, Levi clarifies, the character was not written with Winger, or any particular actress in mind.

"We also tried to get Michelle Pfeiffer and Annette Bening," he says. "What we wanted with this character was to deal with contemporary narcissism in treatment."

The same day Frances' treatment is broadcast, another episode will deal with a Calcutta man who moves to Brooklyn, following a son who has emigrated to the U.S. Irrfan Kahn, ("Slumdog Millionaire" ) stars in this segment.

The third patient to receive treatment (in episodes shown on Tuesdays ) is Jesse, a homosexual youth, who deals with sexual identity issues, along with various conflicts with his biological mother and with the parents who adopted him. "Jess is a rebellious youth. He sleeps with older men," Levi says.

Trick or treatment

The head writers for this season are Dan Futterman (known for his acting work in "Judging Amy," and "Will and Grace" ) and his scriptwriter wife Anya Epstein. They will fill the shoes of Rodrigo Garcia and Warren Leight during the second season.

Futterman knew Kahn's work from "Slumdog Millionaire," and recruited him for "In Treatment."

"The original idea was to get Matisyahu, the Orthodox rapper, to play the part of a religious Jew, but there was another television series that was supposed to deal with this subject, so the idea was dropped," Levi explains.

The writers decided to choose another sort of character who would bring up the subject of immigrants following their children to the U.S.

"Multiculturalism and political correctness are so strongly entrenched in the thinking of Americans that this issue came naturally to them," Levi says.

Levi says Kahn's character moves to the U.S. to live with his doctor son.

"He stays in his son's house, and becomes depressed. At the start, he feels like an object. He hates his daughter-in-law, and does not agree with the way they raise their children; he believes that this daughter-in-law disrespects him. Dr. Paul Weston tells him that he should express his anger, but when he does so, Paul becomes entangled in a professional complication: the treatment relies on Western stereotypes of the Third World."

Weston, for his part, changes his own therapist in the new season. Levi explains that the relationship with his former therapist, Dianne Wiest (who won an Emmy for her role ), seemed exhausted.

Weston's new psychologist is named Adele, played by Amy Ryan (known for her work in "The Office" ).

"There was a need to explain why he seeks care from a young woman, because typically people seek therapists who are older than they are," says Levi. "We solved that problem because she is an expert in a very specific form of care. He discovers symptoms of Parkinson's disease, which he inherited from his father; her expertise is the fears and anxieties connected to the disease."

High quality, low budget

Levi rebuffs claims that the fact there won't be a third season of "Betipul," on which "In Treatment" is based, says something about the local TV industry in Israel.

"It actually says something about myself," he says. "HOT wanted to produce another season. I felt as though I were somewhere else. In the U.S., you have no option: if you don't want to do the series, somebody else will come and do it instead of you. So long as it has economic potential, it will continue. There, the question of producing another season always has to do with profitability; here, there is no money, and if you need to produce a season just to profit from it in the U.S., then it makes more sense simply to produce it there."

Is the American series profitable? "It has never been a huge hit, but it continues to be profitable since it is cheap to produce, and it attracts serious actors," Levi says. "It has been nominated for prizes - eight nominations for Emmy awards [and three winners], and four nominations for Golden Globes [one winner, Byrne]."

The idea of producing a quality series on a low budget that deals with treatment issues has caught on in other countries. Levi travels to production sites around the world, and is pleased to find that there is a need to change the background of characters so that they will captivate interest among local viewers. In the Italian version, the character of Yadin (an Israeli pilot ) turned into an anti-mafia crusader whose father was a judge who had to turn in his own father, a mafia gangster.

Levi plans to take a film crew the next time he visits production sets in Europe (including one in Serbia ) - he has an idea of filming a documentary about national/regional differences in the interaction between patients and therapists in "In Treatment."