Friday, April 4, 2008

Season In Review: In Treatment

When I first talked about "BeTipul" (English translation: "In Therapy"), I had no idea HBO would be adapting it for an American audience. With the first American season now complete, I thought it'd be interesting to do a piece-by-piece comparison and see what emerges - and since both "In Treatment" and "BeTipul" were highly character-centric, I'll focus on the actors/characters.

Gabriel Byrne/Paul Weston vs. Asi Dayan/Reuben Dagan: No contest here, folks. Dayan was a tired, sad-sack mess long before "BeTipul" started, and it showed - he spent the entire season on the edge of falling asleep on-camera (when he wasn't coked out or whatever the hell he does these days). It was just impossible to care about his performance given how apathetic he looked most of the time. Gabriel Byrne is much more kinetic, even when he's just talking, and his rage-out at Alex was much more effective than Dayan stumbling out of his chair and wagging his finger. Winner: HBO

Melissa George/Laura vs. Ayelet Zorer/Neama: Ah, here's a tricky one. On the one hand, George's performance was much more seductive, which is certainly in line with Laura's character... but by not going over the top, Zorer managed to come off as more "realistic", in a sense. I mean, there were certainly a few moments during the final Laura episodes when George oversold her role, and that had a problematic effect on the end of her storyline, because she ended up telegraphing the twist (that, as Gina predicted, she would reject Paul if he capitulated - it's not quite that clear in the Israeli version, you're left wondering whether Neama might really love Reuben for reasons other than transference). Winner: Israel

Blair Underwood/Alex vs. Lior Ashkenazi/Yadin: My crush on Ashkenazi aside, this is another example of an HBO actor going a little too far with the part. Alex/Yadin is supposed to be arrogant and unlikeable, but Underwood went to extremes with everything - the attitude, the monologues, he even falls apart in a much more grandiose way than Ashkenazi's relatively subdued meltdown. Another nitpick has to do with the extent of the revisions: his father was originally written as a Holocaust survivor, which (I felt) played much more strongly to the themes of strength and survival at all costs. It actually turned out a bit awkward in the HBO version, because Alex Sr. ends up playing the race card at a somewhat irrelevant moment - it just doesn't work. Furthermore, the HBO version more or less absolves Paul of all responsibility in Alex's death: in the Israeli version, Yadin's final session lasts about five minutes. He shows up in uniform, announces that he's going back, and when he asks Reuben whether he should fly, Reuben says nothing. That's why he feels guilty, because he never actually asks Yadin to question whether this is the right thing for him. It's Reuben's great failure, and the HBO version skips over it entirely by devoting an entire therapy session to Alex. So there's no pathos there at all. Winner: Israel

Mia Wasikowska/Sophie vs. Maya Maron/Ayala: Sometimes the simplicity of the casting process astounds me. How's this for a revelation - if you're looking for someone to play a 16-year-old, try aiming in that general age range. Maya Maron was probably the most sympathetic character in the Israeli cast, but Wasikowska trumps her easily, both because she looks the part of the young, vulnerable yet wrathful girl and also because she performs it excellently. Winner: HBO

Josh Charles/Jake and Embeth Davitz/Amy vs. Rami Hoiberger/Michael and Alma Zak/Orna: I liked that they cast a South African actress as Amy, as if to further stress the enormous differences between her and Jake. This storyline was practically translated intact, so I don't have much to say about it in terms of comparison: both pairs worked out nicely, though my one nitpick for this week was the rewrite of the eighth session, after Alex's death. Originally, the script called for Reuben's and Michael's conversation to be hallucinatory - the lights turn on and off, and when they go out the conversation shifts to Yadin's death, and when they turn back on for the last time, Michael is gone: he was never there, it was just a way for Reuben to deal with his guilt. I still find that ambiguous episode to be better than doing the parental bit with Jake, it was especially repetitive given that we'd only just finished digging up Amy's skeletons. Draw

Dianne Wiest/Gina vs. Gila Almagor/Gila: Gina/Gila is my favorite character, not just because she's the only person who can cut through Paul's BS but also because she actively resists the narrative she's being forced into, constantly challenging what we, through Paul, know about her. I was surprised to hear that the role had gone to Dianne Wiest - my immediate reaction was "Well, geez, she's too nice." And she is: the most dominant aspect of Gila Almagor's original performance is the way she could adopt this withering, critical, almost disgusted look whenever Reuben indulged himself too much - Wiest doesn't have that, not even during their climactic Charlie/David argument. Winner: Israel

As for the bit players... well, Ian never had any screen time in the Israeli version, his character was conflated with Rosie's in the form of Reuben's daughter Rona. Paradoxically (but, I feel, more realistically), Rona is both the one who takes her father's side and the one who chooses to confide in her mother. Michelle Forbes was great as Kate, she channeled the character's anger really well. And it was nice seeing Peter Horton again as Sophie's needy father.

Overall, barring a few glitches towards the end of the run, I honestly think "In Treatment" acquitted itself nicely. Doesn't seem to have made much of an impression on its audience, but I can't say I'm surprised - it's pretty heavy stuff...