Appointment TV: In Treatment returns after 10 years away

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A lot has changed in the 10-plus years since “In Treatment” ended its three-season Emmy-winning run on HBO.

But has it? Back then, psychotherapist Dr. Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne) treated a cross-section of angsty patients while simultaneously dealing with his own personal issues.

Now, 10-plus-years later, “In Treatment” returns for a fourth season on HBO Max (Sundays at 9 p.m.) with psychotherapist Dr. Brooke Taylor (Uzo Aduba) treating Eladio (Anthony Ramos), Colin (John Benjamin Hickey) and Laila (Quintessa Swindell). Their pandemic-era therapy sessions are done over Zoom or in Brooke’s LA home, the only tangible structural change to the series (and streaming TV did not exist the first time around, so there’s that).

This 24-episode season we delve into Eladio, Colin and Laila’s emotional baggage — and, as in the original series vis a vis Paul — there are episodes dedicated solely to Brooke’s private life as she deals with her personal issues, including alcoholism, her on-again/off-again enabler boyfriend, Adam (Joel Kinnaman) and her avoidance of Paul’s “making sure you’re OK” e-mails and voicemails.

The challenge for a half-hour series like “In Treatment” is to grab your attention from the get-go since, with a few exceptions (co-star Liza Colon-Zaya as Brooke’s straight-shooting AA sponsor, Rita), it’s all-about Brooke and her three patients — and most of the “action,” per se, involves face-to-face (or face-to-computer screen) dialogue and not much in terms of scene changes, camera angles, etc. If done properly, that can be as riveting as full-blown action sequences, and “In Treatment” pulls it off. There’s only the occasional lag, but the performances are strong and the half-hour sessions fly by.

It all starts with solid writing, and with Aduba as the series’ anchor. When Brooke is wearing her therapist’s hat, you can see why she’s so successful (and charges steep rates): she’s empathetic and funny, with a non-confrontational approach and a sharp sense of humor that softens those occasionally awkward therapist-patient moments. She’s quite different in her off-hours, haunted by the recent death of her acclaimed-architect father (many unresolved issues there) and still grappling, emotionally, with the vestiges of life-altering decisions she made as a younger woman. And then there’s Adam and Rita, Brooke’s sounding board and, ostensibly, her own private therapist in Paul’s absence.

Eladio (Ramos) lives with a wealthy LA family (without insurance benefits), caring for their handicapped older son, who’s the same age and to whom Eladio is unabashedly devoted. He knows he’s good at his job but he’s got nagging doubts and low self-esteem; his insomnia, and his inability to focus, is a concern. In his (remote) sessions with Brooke, he finds both a fellow literary enthusiast and a mother figure. Boundaries are tested on both sides of their computer screens.

Colin (Hickey, who shines), is a former tech titan, who “moved some decimal points around,” served four years in prison and has just been released due to COVID. His court-mandated therapy sessions will determine his continuing freedom, and Brooke starts chipping away at his self-assured facade masking the deep regret and emotional trauma that trigger his frightening rages.

Eighteen-year-old Laila (Swindell) is forced into therapy by her dominating, overprotective grandmother, Rhonda (Charlayne Woodard), who can’t understand why she’s gay. Laila, convinced she’s a “sex addict,” talks openly about her relationship with her 14-year-old girlfriend — but there are other issues at play, including her rich, workaholic/absentee father, who buys her love with expensive cars.

Whichever side of the therapy coin you’re on — believer or dismisser — it’s worth your while to drop into one of Dr. Taylor’s “In Treatment” sessions. You may learn something about yourself.

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