THE SERIES "The Patient"
WHEN | WHERE Now streaming on Hulu
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Steve Carell shows off his dramatic chops in "The Patient" as therapist Alan Strauss, a man searching for a way forward in his life after the death of his wife, Beth (Laura Niemi), and amid the estrangement of his eldest son, Ezra (Andrew Leeds).
That search for a measure of the happiness and contentment he helps others discover must occur under deeply traumatic circumstances, however, when his patient Sam (Domhnall Gleeson) kidnaps him and chains his leg to the floor.
Sam has brought Alan to the basement of his home because he's a serial killer who wants help controlling his homicidal impulses. With little beyond a bed, a chair, a notepad and a pen — and with Sam's deepest and darkest secrets revealed — Alan must negotiate the whims of this dangerous client to save his life.
The first two episodes of this 10-episode FX on Hulu limited series have premiered, and the rollout will continue Tuesdays through Oct. 25. It's created by Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, best known for "The Americans."
MY SAY "The Patient" has recurring characters beyond Alan and Sam, but the majority of the series takes place with the two of them on-screen in that nondescript basement of Sam's house, with its worn carpeted floor, wood-paneled walls and lightly filled shelves that could just as easily be any suburban home.
It finds its most potent drama inside its characters: Alan confronts the danger right in front of him while being submerged by a wave of memories that carry with them deep sadness and regret.
The part requires an actor who understands how to convey the measure of a man under severe trauma, even as he's left alone with nothing but those harrowing thoughts for long periods of time. Carell, in the performance of his career, captures this rich trajectory in moments that range from intense, high drama to those that are suffocatingly quiet.
In the conversations with Sam, Carell's Alan projects the wisdom of a renowned therapist, used to working with damaged individuals, along with the fear and loneliness that accompany the increasing realization that he might never be able to leave this basement to make things right with his son.
The creators avoid the pitfalls that tend to hamper lesser dramas about serial killers by shifting the focus of the storytelling away from the horrific specifics.
That's not to suggest it compromises in its depiction of Sam's evil: it's made terrifyingly real, thanks to the refusal to cut away from his worst impulses and Gleeson's expert portrayal of the character's violent unpredictability. The humanity, the shred of a conscience detected by Alan, almost makes him more unsettling.
But "The Patient" can be more deeply understood as an inquiry into the therapeutic process itself, utilizing extreme circumstances to show the complex ways in which it can benefit a doctor and his patient, with the duress experienced by Alan and Sam serving as an effective symbol of the emotional turmoil we've all felt at one time or another.
It is a show, in other words, about the life of the mind.
BOTTOM LINE Carell gives his best performance yet in "The Patient," a compelling drama that's worth sticking with through all 10 episodes.