Based on an Israeli drama, this HBO show thwarts There Are No Therapists and Hollywood Psych (as best it can in a 30 minute time limit per episode, anyway) by showing 4 sessions a week of Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne), therapist, and his clients. Some of Paul's own personal issues come out during the sessions, as well as seeing Paul's family. On the fifth day, Paul sees his own therapist / ex-mentor Gina.
Note: even though you may want to skip watching certain patients every week, you really can't skip any of them in order to make sense of some other episodes (especially the Gina ones).
The show has a bit of Epiphany Therapy to it, given the short timelines, but otherwise seems to try to be as realistic as it can about the therapeutic process. The credits also show they have a professional therapist consultant.
The series started in 2008. It was not a big moneymaker for HBO (perhaps owing to its slow-pacing/reliance on dialogue) but a third season started in 2010. It cuts things down to three sessions a week and after Paul's confrontation with Gina at the end of season 2, he's seeing a new therapist, Adele. The series ended in December 2010.
Season 1 clients:
- Laura (Melissa George), who's been in love with Paul for a year while being romantically involved with Andrew. And later with Alex.
- Alex (Blair Underwood), an Ace Pilot who has daddy issues, killed a lot of schoolchildren in The War on Terror, wants to leave his wife, and might not be as self-assured as he claims to be.
- Sophie (Mia Wasikowska), a gymnast with parental issues who goes to therapy after getting into an accident that could have killed her.
- Jake and Amy (Josh Charles and Embeth Davidtz), a couple having marital difficulties and a debate over whether to have another child.
Season 2 clients:
- Mia (Embeth Davidtz), a once and former patient of Paul's who is bitter about being single and childless.
- April (Alison Pill), a college student with cancer who's not getting treated for it.
- Oliver (Aaron Grady Shaw), a kid caught in a nasty fight between his parents
- Walter (John Mahoney), a businessman who can't sleep, but has a lot more problems than just that.
Season 3 clients:
- Sunil (Irrfan Khan), an Indian math teacher who is having trouble adjusting to living with his son and his family after his wife's death.
- Frances (Debra Winger), an aging actress with memory problems, a sister with breast cancer, and a strained relationship with her daughter.
- Jesse (Dane De Haan), a gay teenager who can't connect with his adoptive parents or boyfriends and has trouble opening up.
- Batman Gambit: Sunil: Triple played on Paul, his son Arun, and his daughter in-law Julia. By claiming to have vague dreams and fantasies about hurting Julia, he convinced Paul to do his duty as a therapist and call Julia to warn her...exactly as Sunil wanted. Then Julia reacted as Sunil predicted by calling the police. The police then asked to see his immigration papers, Sunil refused, and he was set to be deported, the entire situation finally convincing Arun to break the promise he made to his mother and let his father return home to Calcutta...which is all that Sunil wanted since his introduction.
- Book Dumb: Jake denies being an intellectual and says he hates to read and flunked out of school. However, he grew up with intellectual parents, knows more than he admits to, and is good at crossword puzzles. At one point he corrects Paul on when the latter misquotes Roland Barthes.
- Botched Suicide: Paul unwittingly leaves a bottle of sleeping pills in his bathroom (he's been sleeping in his treatment room and poorly), and Sophie takes a handful upon discovering them after a particularly distressing night and therapy session. Luckily she collapses before being able to leave and Paul calls an ambulance, allowing her to survive. Walter later tries something similar (this time in his own home), but also fails.
- But I Can't Be Pregnant! and Convenient Miscarriage: And HOW for Amy, who wanted an abortion and her husband didn't want her to get one.
- Broken Ace: Three prominent examples:
- Alex, who talks about being "the best" in anything he puts his mind and body to, and yet is unable to make decisions by himself.
- Walter, who prides himself on being a self-made man who can work harder and on less sleep than his colleagues, and is a very successful businessman. However, deep down he is a mess of neurosis.
- Paul himself is apparently quite respected in his field, but his personal life is constantly in a state of falling apart, and he has no idea how to connect with his family.
- Broken Bird: Sophie, a teenager with suicidal tendencies and an abusive relationship with her coach.
- Broken Pedestal: Gina to Paul, who's still holding a grudge against her for getting emotionally involved with a patient.
- The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Paul is a fairly neglectful parent to his own kids. One of the season three episodes goes into this.
- Critical Psychoanalysis Failure: Several
- Played straight in Season 1 when Paul reciprocates Laura's feelings of romantic love, which technically are a form of transference and hence part of what she needs treatment for. Subverted in the Season Finale when it's revealed that Paul's treatment of Laura was a success despite his unprofessional behaviour.
- Played with in Season 2 when it's Paul's issues with his own family that subvert his treatment of April, and maybe also of Oliver.
- Played with differently in Season 3 when Sunil successfully involves Paul in his own Batman gambit to get deported by pretending to be more troubled than he actually is.
- The Couch: No not that couch!
- Death Seeker: Sophie, via various car accidents. Alex too via his plane, perhaps. April passively choosing not to get treated for cancer might count as another version of this.
- Domestic Abuse: Amy actually slaps and kicks Jake during a session. He's completely unfazed by it, so it probably wasn't the first time she did something like that, either.
- Expy: Gina's book has one of Paul.
- Femme Fatale: Laura tries very hard to be one as a way to cope with her insecurities and trauma.
- Fictional Document: The book Gina writes in Season 3.
- Florence Nightingale Effect: The mental health variety. Transference and counter-transference is one of the main subjects.
- Foreign Remake: Transatlantic Equivalent with the Israeli version.
- Foreshadowing: In the first Gina episode in Season 1 she is joking with Paul and asks if he's afraid she'll write about him in his book. Guess what happens in Season 3.
- Genre Savvy: Frances, who spends a lot of her first session commenting on tropes. The problem is that a lot of them don't apply to her, making her closer to Wrong Genre Savvy.
- Good Is Not Soft: Paul often tries to be understanding and calm with his patients, and for the most part is. However, he will snap at them and put his foot down if push comes to shove. He makes it crystal clear when they are threading on thin ice and that he will only tolerate their behavior so far.
- Honor Before Reason: Arguably, April's logic for why she won't tell her parents she has cancer. They already have one ill child, they can't deal with two.
- Hypocritical Humor: Gina's book paints Paul's Expy as childish and unprofessional in the way he lets his patients supersede his family. But such a portrayal of a real person is a rather immature thing for a writer to do, and being a mentor and friend to Paul for such a long time, she should know being his therapist is rather unprofessional itself...
- Interrupted Suicide: Sophie tries to commit suicide in Paul's office and is rescued by him.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Two main examples:
- In Series One, Sophie's mother seems like a hysterical helicopter parent, and Sophie treats her with disdain because of it. However, when we meet her, her daughter has twice attempted suicide, been in a sexually abusive relationship, and surrounds herself with friends who encourage her to develop an eating disorder. Her desperation to protect her daughter suddenly becomes completely justified.
- In Series Two, Paul finally snaps at when April continually refuses to go for Chemotherapy, despite her worsening conditioning. At his wits end, Paul finally agrees to take her so that she will actually get help. His method of doing this is to cruelly browbeat her into going, and while it is a huge breach of doctor/patient boundaries, it does save her life.
- Married to the Job: One of the reasons why Paul goes to Gina for help. His personal life is a wreck because he cares more about his patients than his children and wife. In season 2 his wife asks for the divorce, and in season 3 his children prefer to live with Kate's fiancée than deal with Paul and his patients.
- The Masochism Tango: Jake and Amy's relationship, plus Opposites Attract.
- Minimalist Cast: Subverted. The show leads you to think that the patients and Paul are the only characters, but several of the ghosts show up later.
- My Greatest Failure / My Greatest Second Chance Paul and his not knowing Alex was secretly suicidal. Next year he gets to deal with two suicidal patients.
- Never Suicide: Alex's death in a fighter jet exercise is ruled an accident by the Navy, but both his father and Paul come to believe that he killed himself. Specifically because he didn't use the ejection seat, despite having previously been established as a near record-breaking escapist from failing planes. It's left ambiguous what actually happened.
- Not So Different: Not unline his patients, Paul has a boatload of trauma, daddy issues and unrealistic expectations about love.
- Parental Abandonment: Pretty much every character in one way or another seems to have this.
- Parents Are People: One of the hardest issues Oliver has to face in his sessions with Paul, as he witnesses his parents' marriage falling apart.
- Promotion to Parent: April is so afraid of this happening to her that she'd rather die. It is a somewhat legitimate fear as her brother is autistic to the point of being completely incapable of taking care of himself without her.
- Properly Paranoid: Jake's Establishing Character Moment sees him freaking out about Amy being late to the session, and becomes accusatory when questioning her at length when she arrives. This makes him seem like a controlling and abusing husband, but then subverted when it turns out she WAS doing exactly what he suspected: meeting with her OBGYN to discuss an abortion, despite having promised Jake she would not without him.
- Rage Against the Mentor: Paul to Gina in season 3, after he finds out she wrote a book about him.
- Real Time: The sessions themselves are often this. One episode even ends early when the patient storms off. Of course, dialogue implies that
- Speech-Centric Work: Just sessions between Paul and his patients.
- Straight Gay: Alex, maybe, which would also put him in the Transparent Closet. He seems to be a firm believer in No Bisexuals, despite evidence that he may at least be one.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Luke and Bess in Season 2 are based on the same characters in the original as Jake and Amy, and it shows.
- The Reason You Suck Letter: Paul thinks that a review Gina gave him during his school days is this when it is really only a professional evaluation. She gives him a real one in the same episode. Then again in the second season.
- Unreliable Narrator: Almost all of the patients lie to Paul about one thing or another, and Paul even lies or leaves critical pieces of information out of his sessions with Gina.
- What the Hell Is That Accent?:
- Gabriel Byrne really fluctuates in how much his Irish brogue pokes through. It is mentioned that Paul grew up there and moved to the states sometime in his teens.
- Embeth Davidtz' accent in the first series bizarrely only fluctuates in one episode, between her natural South African and American. Afterwards she sticks to her natural accent, but the effect is quite jarring.
- Will They or Won't They?: Paul and Laura, a rare example of this where you root for "won't." Mia gives this a pretty good shot as well, though Paul is less responsive. A case could be made of Adele too.
- Your Cheating Heart: The majority of the cast, at some point, cheats on their partners as a way to cope with trauma and personal issues.