The American version of the Israeli televison show "Betipul" ("In Treatment") is hitting the airwaves today in the United States with almost no alternative to the daily drama, which stars Gabriel Byrne. The new series on HBO will be shown the way the original was screened in Israel: On Mondays through Thursdays psychotherapist Paul (Byrne) will meet with his regular patients, and on Fridays he will meet with his own psychotherapist (Dianne Wiest). That's how it will be for nine weeks.
This type of viewing, which is unusual for Americans, who have familiar and inflexible viewing habits, comes during a period when other new dramas have been taken off the screen because of the screenwriters' strike, and the TV schedule is full of reality shows. In other words, at a good time. This seems to be an important advantage, even if it didn't help the leading reality show in the United States, "American Idol." Its season premiere, which aired about a week and a half ago, registered the lowest viewing rating in the past four years - only 33 million viewers. This may be a huge number, but it's 11 percent lower than the number of people who gathered to see the audition episodes last season, which were broadcast when there were many other programs from which to choose. The fact that there are more TiVo-style television sets in the U.S. is supposed to improve this statistic somewhat, but not to change the fact that there is a decline in interest in the show and apparently in television as well.
These are not the viewing audience numbers typical of HBO, which is pinning high hopes on the new series. The channel recently parted from "The Sopranos," whose actors were candidates for Emmy awards last night, and has remained short of high-quality dramas.
This week the fifth season of "America Undercover" began on the cable channel, which is not dependent on the dictates of the national networks, but this is the last season of the exceptional series. At the end of the few installments about the policemen and citizens of Baltimore, the channel will in effect be left without any outstanding dramas. "John From Cincinnati," which was aired this year and dealt with three generations of a surfing family from California, began with great fanfare, but was soon taken off the air. "Tell Me You Love Me," a new drama on this channel, which will begin at the end of this week on HOT VOD, is a series that also takes place to a large extent in a therapist's office, but does so in such a boring way that even the fact that the rest of the time it takes place in the patients' bedrooms does not make it more interesting. In other words, even from this point of view, it's a good time for broadcasting the American version of "Betipul."
In any case, Byrne's Paul Weston has already been well-received by the American critics. Heather Havrilesky, the sharp critic of the Salon Web site, warns viewers not to jump to negative conclusions from the first episode, because, as she writes, "The first episode of 'In Treatment' appeared to be the sort of pretentious, overwritten purgatory that I'd expected" and "all of the therapy cliches are laid out in this half-hour-long episode." But the following episodes - and she has apparently seen many of them - "are imaginative and unfold patiently," as she put it. Considering that every episode takes place in one room, she writes, "The writers (executive producers include Rodrigo Garcia, Hagai Levi, Stephen Levinson and Mark Wahlberg) lend the series an unexpectedly lively, unpredictable energy." In sum she writes in her column: "The first episode of this show will probably make you roll your eyes and beg the gods for mercy. Don't give up, though, because 'In Treatment' is sharp and unique and worth the effort. And in this impoverished TV era, well, let's just say you have the time."