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'In Treatment' meets 'Dexter' in Hulu's psychological thriller 'The Patient'


This is FRESH AIR. Two executive producers of the FX drama series "The Americans" have re-teamed to create and write a new 10-part drama premiering today on Hulu. It's called "The Patient" and stars Steve Carell as a therapist who's abducted by a serial killer. The killer, played by Domhnall Gleeson, orders the therapist to cure him of his deadly tendencies or else. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: If you had to describe "The Patient," this new 10-episode series from writers Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, in 10 words or less, it might be something like this - "In Treatment" meets "Dexter." In the HBO series "In Treatment," you had intimate one-on-one conversations between a therapist and their patients. In Showtime's "Dexter," you had a serial killer who tried to channel his murderous impulses and kill other serial killers. In Hulu's "The Patient," you sort of have both.

In "The Patient," we have a murderer who abducts a therapist, Alan Strauss, whose books on psychology he's read and liked. After attending a few sessions in Alan's office to feel him out, pretending to be a patient named Gene, the murderer whose real name is Sam makes Alan his captive. He knocks him out, and Alan regains consciousness chained by the ankle to the floor of the basement in Sam's secluded home. Sam's idea is that the two of them will undergo some intense and intensive therapy sessions quickly curing Sam of his homicidal tendencies. Sam is played by Domhnall Gleeson, who played Bill Weasley in the "Harry Potter" films. Steve Carell from "The Office," in a totally dramatic role, plays the therapist Alan, who understandably recoils at this extremely unusual arrangement.


STEVE CARELL: (As Alan Strauss) Gene. Sam. You have to listen to me.

DOMHNALL GLEESON: (As Sam Fortner) I am listening. I am listening. I know how to listen. I understand. This is upsetting for you. I get that. It's a little scary, but this is the only way that I could - I need help. I want help. I'm asking you for help. You said therapy can't work if I'm not truthful. I know that you're right. So...

CARELL: (As Alan Strauss) No, no. You don't understand. I don't think you know what you're doing to me.

GLEESON: (As Sam Fortner) I realize it might take you a little time to get used to what's happening here.

CARELL: (As Alan Strauss) Whatever is troubling you, we can address it. But not here, not like this.

GLEESON: (As Sam Fortner) Mr. Strauss, I have much bigger problems than your other patients. I have a compulsion to kill people.

CARELL: (As Alan Strauss) A compulsion.

GLEESON: (As Sam Fortner) Yeah, I do it.

CARELL: (As Alan Strauss) Sam.

GLEESON: (As Sam Fortner) I don't mean just once or twice. Every once in a while, I just do it.

BIANCULLI: They do, of course, begin a series of sessions or else there's no TV series. But it's the way this story unfolds and expands that makes it noteworthy. What sounds like a two-person drama becomes, little by little, more than that. This very contained universe with so much of it set in one finished basement opens up a lot thanks to flashbacks and dream sequences that give us insight not only into Sam's life, but into Alan's.

Both of them, it turns out, have family issues to unravel. Sam, the killer, has a father who abused him as a boy. And Alan, the therapist, has a son who rebelled against his parents by following a different religious path. And added to all that are real-life characters who occasionally intrude upon Sam's homemade basement prison or are shown interacting with him outside.

As "The Patient" unfolds, it gets more intense. The stakes rise, and so does the body count. And because this is a one-season limited series, there's no guarantee that even the main characters will survive, adding measurably to the sense of jeopardy. That unpredictability is a crucial ingredient here, and so is the constant reexamination of motives and the past. For Alan to literally talk his way out of his potentially deadly circumstances, he has to probe deeply into Sam's head but also his own.

By the time the series is over, the very title of "The Patient" has a multiple meaning. The patient easily could refer to more than one person and arguably more than two. How that happens and why is what makes "The Patient" so watchable throughout. Sam, the killer, is the one seeking treatment, but by the time this drama is over, nearly everyone in this drama reflects upon past actions and decisions or dies trying.

GROSS: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey. He reviewed the new FX series "The Patient."

Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll continue our weeklong series featuring some of our favorite music interviews from the archive. We'll hear interviews with Jay-Z and Lizzo. I hope you'll join us.

FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.


David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.