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'In Treatment' review: Fun, frothy, engaging

Uzo Aduba now stars in HBO's "In Treatment."

Uzo Aduba now stars in HBO's "In Treatment."  Credit: HBO/Suzanne Tenner

SERIES "In Treatment"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO; streams on HBO Max

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Dr. Brooke Lawrence (Uzo Aduba, "Orange Is the New Black") is an L.A.-based therapist whose patients include Eladio (Anthony Ramos), a gifted teen housesitting for a wealthy family; Colin (Tony Award-winner John Benjamin Hickey), a tech entrepreneur just out of jail for securities fraud; and Laila (Quintessa Swindell), an 18-year-old lesbian. Meanwhile, Brooke has a friend: Adam (Joel Kinnaman).

HBO is calling this the 4th season of the series that starred Gabriel Byrne as therapist and ran from 2008 to 2010.

MY SAY The original "In Treatment '' was a show about the intimate space between two people with first-world problems and what fills that space. Lots of words, mostly, but words freighted with meaning, and meaning with emotional connection which always dangled the promise of catharsis, for viewers as much as the patients. Byrne's Paul Weston was the shrink we wanted or needed: A sphinx with a gentle brogue who was kind, patient, shrewd and had a nimbus of melancholy about him. When it was abruptly canceled, fans felt abandoned. After all, this was free therapy for the price of an HBO subscription.

This new season — actually, let's just call it for what it is (a reboot) — has studied well the master. Brooke even has a wave motion machine on a counter; the toy boat-obsessed Weston had one of those too. The Feng Shui of her office/living space embraces the whole spread of L.A. beyond the ceiling-to-floor windows. Just being here is calming.

And while it's either ironic or amusing that Aduba's most famous character to date is "Crazy Eyes," that's quickly forgotten. She's such a skillful and intelligent performer that she instantly becomes a fully-formed person with a full-formed back story and someone who is — dare I even say this about our new TV shrink? — sexy. She smolders while Paul simmered.

The problems of her patients remain mostly first-world, but feel consequential and soon enough begin to feel like they're ours too. The pandemic continues beyond those windows yet no one here whines about mask mandates. Instead, this reboot explores trendy topics like queer identity, white privilege and male/female power dynamics.

Nothing feels "trendy" though. That was the magic of the original as well. After a point, you identified with a character so that you could see the world from their vantage point. Their breakthrough became your breakthrough. Same (hopefully) here.

What's missing? Nothing really, except that something is. Fans never got to say goodbye to the original series. It's as if Paul never existed. (You'll briefly see Byrne standing next to Brooke in a picture; was he her mentor? Who knows?)

Closure is what's missing. Closure, by the way, is still needed.

BOTTOM LINE Still fun, frothy, engaging — but there's a missing element.

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