The FX series in 10 episodes The patient is the story of a serial killer, Sam (Domhnall Gleeson), who kidnaps his therapist, Dr. Straus (Steve Carell).
When you read that premise, you might think, like me, “Hey, this show will probably be aware of the humor of that idea. Surely The patient understands that it’s quite funny and explores the absurdity of such a premise. Well, I regret to inform you that The patient might be one of the most serious TV shows ever made. He has a level of sleepiness and sustained depression that will put critics of the first season of Leftovers to shame.
The patient is about death: thinking about death, thinking about who you would like to be when you die, and dealing with the eventual death you will face. But it’s also about fractured father-son relationships, about whether it’s possible to change and come to terms with your Jewish faith. The patient is, rather surprisingly, not at all about serial killers.
I first understood The patientcreated by Joe Weisberg, as Americans meets spirit hunter. This is the closest comparison one can make, with The patient focus on the realistic clinical psychology of serial killers rather than the academic approach spirit hunter take. Weisberg, co-creator of Americansonce wrote a show that masqueraded as one thing (a series about Cold War-era spies) but really found substance in another (dissecting marriage and family roles).
But The patient feels more like a show whose history has never been broken. There is a division between the premise and the product. sometimes The patient features phenomenal conversations between Carell and Gleeson, both of whom are completely immersed in this dreary world. sometimes The patient seeks deeper themes of faith and change. But these aspects never come together in one cohesive show.
Despite all my criticisms, I do not think The patient is a bad show. It’s technically very well done, with a perfectly unsettling score and excellent sound design. By taking place mostly in one room, The patient is able to achieve an eerie comfort in such a mundane environment. Gleeson is the highlight of the series; his portrayal of serial killer Sam manages to rise above many exaggerated takes on a twisted mind to make a truly terrifying man.
The only little bits of lightness and humor in The patient come from Sam. As a serial killer, Sam is also a foodie and enjoys describing all the wonderful food he receives from restaurants. He is also a huge fan of Kenny Chesney and interacts on fan forums. Sam also has a strange fixation on Judaism, acknowledging that he specifically sought out Jewish therapists, and seems to yearn for the strong religious base and community that religion would give him (although this idea, like many others, not be explored much as the series progresses). It’s these little quirks that make Sam little more than just a generic serial killer, something the show desperately needs.
The patient is also quite groundbreaking for its portrayal of Orthodox Judaism versus Reform Judaism. In the series, Dr. Strauss’ son converts to Orthodoxy, driving a wedge between him and his Reform family. Orthodox Judaism has earned a bad reputation in the media, often emphasizing the extremely conservative or restrictive aspects of the religion (seen on TV shows like Unorthodox or movies like Disobedience). But The patient manages to criticize orthodoxy without associating it with evil or abuse. Some of the best scenes in the series feature Dr. Strauss and his wife, a cantor (a person who sings and leads prayer in a synagogue), grappling with their own interpretations of their religion versus their son’s.
There is a very intense aspect of The patientThe exploration of religion that is important to dissect, however. While Dr. Strauss is Jewish, actor Steve Carell is not. It’s a controversial topic, and Weisberg commented on the casting, saying, “I think our feeling has always been, as TV writers, that we’re kind of in a field where people claim to be from. other people. It’s what everyone does all the time. Although I don’t believe that only Jewish actors can play Jewish characters, Dr. Strauss is not just a Jewish character. While chained in Sam’s basement, there are frequent delusions of Dr. Strauss imagining himself as a prisoner in Auschwitz. We have seen it in the barracks and even in the gas chambers. The extent to which Dr. Strauss is connected to his religion and to the ancestral trauma of the Jewish people is extreme. So, while Carell is a powerful performer in the role, there is a prevailing unease to inhabit this narrative. It’s a line crossed that makes Carell pretend to sit in the gas chambers just plain feel bad.
Here and elsewhere there is a prevailing sense of missed opportunity in The patient. The show’s heaviness is what makes it interesting at times, making therapy sessions a matter of life and death. I’m a fan of any show that can really dive into the storytelling potential of a simple conversation. There are glimpses of this ability throughout The patient, but he ultimately seems afraid to embrace this narrative challenge. When the heaviness of the series is used effectively, there are inspired emotional character beats. Dr. Strauss tries to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, but he can’t remember the words. This desperation for a way to mourn properly is powerful, but moments like this are lost in a show that never brings its warring parts together.
Unfortunately, the release pattern of The patient will probably defeat him. Although there are a few cliffhangers in the first half, by Episode 6 the show doesn’t escalate enough for people to watch every week. The patient is described as a thriller but it has all the chills of slowly sinking into a bog. Given the sheer depression of each episode, I doubt many people will stick with the show until its conclusion.
That said, there was a point around Episode 5 where the show started following me. I started to internalize my own fears of death as another idea that I have to deal with. I thought about the last thing I would ever hear, the last thing I wanted to say. I started wondering if I wanted a closer connection to religion in the end. I thought of looking out a window and wanting to see the hope in the trees. The patient managed to stimulate a lot of thought, but not about the show itself.
The truth is The patient won’t work for everyone, or even probably most people. If you want a serial killer show, you’ll be disappointed. If you want a real successor for Americansyou will also be disappointed. The patient takes you somewhere complicated, and it’s not an easy watch. It doesn’t always work, it’s underdeveloped and it’s often a real disappointment. But it’s been weeks since I first watched the show and I still think of Dr Strauss trying to recite the Kaddish but not knowing the words. Not many shows come with a moment like that.
The patient will premiere on Hulu with two episodes on Tuesday, August 30, followed by a weekly release.
Leila Jordan is a writer and former puzzle world record holder. To talk about all things movies, TV and useless trivia, you can find her @galaxylila
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