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'How are you' gets the full 'Treatment'

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Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne, left) worries about his inability to help patients such as Sunil (Irfan Khan) In HBO's "In Treatment."


Full disclosure: I don't go out of my way to watch "In Treatment." It's too frustrating. The series feels like a showoff showcase for actors, as if James Lipton occupied the third chair in the office, droning, "What is your favorite curse word- "

And then there's the subject matter. Therapy is all about digging inside you until it hurts. There are crumpled Kleenexes, terrible truths, and awkward silences. We should all be so lucky as to have ruggedly handsome Gabriel Byrne sitting across from us, impassively saying, "And why do you think there's an awkward silence- "

I have some issues with therapy.

As it turns out, so does Byrne's character, Paul Weston, who's been practicing for 25 years and has relocated to Brooklyn. The first two seasons of "In Treatment" were based on the Israeli series "BeTipul," but from here on out the scripts are entirely original. Weston is suffering from sleep problems, and despondent about his inability to fix his patients. "There's really nothing more to contribute," he says.

Season 3 starts Monday. The patients:

*Sunil (Irfan Khan), a widower who moved from Calcutta to live with his son's family. His grief and depression are so palpable that I'm afraid he'll disappear into the cushions on Weston's couch.

*Frances (Debra Winger), an aging actress who ostensibly comes in because she's forgetting her lines in a play. As always, it's impossible to take your eyes off Winger, especially when she's playing a parody of herself.

On Tuesday:

*Jesse (Dane DeHaan), a 16-year-old in danger of jumping out of his skin, trying to come to terms with his adoption and his homosexuality.

*Weston himself, who reluctantly begins seeing a new therapist (Amy Ryan) after years of intimate confessions with his former mentor (Dianne Wiest, who won't be appearing this season).

The acting is brilliant, the problems are relatable, and the truths Dr. Weston is chasing are profound. On the other hand, "In Treatment" is the epitome of American self-indulgence, both for the actors and the characters they're playing. On this show, it's all about them. My prescription would be to try putting themselves in perspective, and look outward for a change.

It's an excellent show, but be warned: You may never ask another person, "How are you- ," for fear that they will actually tell you.

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