(NOTE: SOME SPOILERS BELOW--TREAD LIGHTLY!)
I have to admit that, as a clinician myself, I'll watch most anything that has a mental health angle in it. Typically, they never get the therapy (or the therapist) done right, at least for more than a fleeting moment. This show is no exception. The premise is interesting: several couples is a mid-size metropolis are seeing the same shrink, and we see them both during therapy and in their 'real' lives. The shrink, too, has her own life outside the office, and we (the audience) are a busy fly on many walls as we follow them all around each episode. We hear the outlines of their problems in therapy, and we go deeper when we are with them outside, comparing the two evolving versions & seeing where the truth comes up a little short, and where they are copping out. In one sense, we are used to this device as it was used religiously (and very effectively) in the Sopranos. So we see a bit of the sociopathy of everyday life, to coin a phrase; or, maybe just an honest look at the flaws of human characters.
You can see where this mid-western novella is going to go--it's a small town and their paths are going to cross, eventually, and realize they are all therapy sibs. But, we only got a hint of that by the end of season one. Too bad--I thought there were going to be some pyrotechnics when all those fuses started to catch.....but....oh well! I guess the producers were pretty confident about getting a second go round.
Along the way, we flies are witness to the most raw, naturalistic sex scenes that I have ever seen on TV/cable. That is not to say it is sexy stuff--it is pretty unpolished & non-stylized. You see all the anatomy, somewhat obliquely and in natural low light conditions, but nothing is left to the imagination. The only thing I was wondering was, are those prosthetic phalli or the real thing? And the sex scenes tend to drag on, and there is no pretense here to make the trysts hot, sexy, kinky--they are just pretty run of the mill, daily grind kind of stuff. Some highlights you ask? Well, we get to see the husband in the sexless marriage treat himself to some solo satisfaction--and boy was I sorry I watched that scene! And, for the geriatric set--there is included a pretty raw scene with Jane Alexander and her husband getting it on in a recliner. There was one reviewer who said how great she looked in this scene--well, I would say that with her clothes on she is indeed a classy, elegant grand dame. But, nude and vigorously humping? Please, this was not sexy and not entertaining. Good commercial for Viagara, but that is about it. In fact, whenever there is a sex scene one feels as if it is very private and this is the time to go fix a sandwich or shut off the sprinklers, rather than do so at the commercial. It is a rather interesting artistic achievement, to say the least.
Here is the BIG problem with this show, as I see it: none of the characters are likeable. None. Not one. Their stories are somewhat interesting, but you cannot develop a liking for any of the people. Most of them are professional class, and they are all whiners, wimps, phonies, narcissists, sex-addicts, or anhedonic icebergs. Or some combination of the above. They are SO bland and/or neurotic that you don't want to spend an hour a week with them, not a one of them. Oh, and don't you be looking for any persons of color in this show--unless you count different hair colors as evidence of diversity. It's all Oscar Meyer on Wonder Bread with mayo on a paper plate. A plain, white paper plate.... There is no diversity among the characters, between the character, or within the characters. Imagine 'All in the Family' and every character is an insipid, vacuous version of Archie Bunker. Guys like us we had it made....
Even in the Sopranos, you could develop a liking for those greedy psychopathic killers and their various sycophantic partners--THAT was part of the incredible achievement of that show. To make you forget that these Jersey guys with the SUVs who are wolfing down franks at a bbq are stone-cold killers, and they are just regular folks with mortgages, PTA meetings, mid-life crises, etc. And--you identify just a little with the lure of the larceny and of getting away with it....But here? You wouldn't want to share a cup of joe with any of these people. This to me is the main crisis, as a viewer.
Another main weakness, ironically, is the whole therapy device. I thought Jane Alexander was earnest in the anchoring central role as the therapist, but she was stuck with some of the lamest therapist dialogue yet concocted for a TV show. And, we are dropping in at the moment when her big book is being released, so we are led to believe she is really some kind of expert, but I found her verbal interventions wordy, trite, unrealistic, patronizing, and untherapeutic. But, she was earnest and sincere, for what that is worth: the cases move along more or less disastrously for each of the couples. Nice work! This tendency to romantic decline includes Jane's own marriage, imperiled by the mid-season revelation of a past affair, which threatens to resume when her ex-lover just happens to turn up in this ever-shrinking cesspool of a town.
So, while I stuck it out for the entire season, I was ready to bail about a third of the way through, but my gal and I were committed to seeing it through. Probably the most interesting aspect was that the producers attached about 5-6 minutes onto the end of each episode that featured real life couples who were watching and commenting on the show's progress and how it sort-of mirrored their own struggles. Now, these people WERE very likeable and interesting, more so than the actual cast. That was another problem with the show, as far as I was concerned. And, similarly, the show did spark good discussions between my partner and I. So, in the end, it was a case of life imitating life that was imitating art that bore no resemblance at all to life, at least any life you would want to be living.
Well, I guess maybe see it for yourself and decide, but if you are not into it by the 3rd show, it ain't getting any better!