The doctor is in, so pull up a chair for weekly psychotherapy 'Sessions'


October 05, 1991|By STEVE MCKERROW

Oh, it's funny, at times very funny. But the question about "Sessions" is this: Is the new HBO comedy series created by Billy Crystal and starring Elliot Gould a little too much like real therapy?

The unmistakably adult comedy debuts tomorrow on the premium service (at 10:10 p.m., but to be seen weekly at 10 p.m. Sundays).

The format is simple: As Dr. Bookbinder, Mr. Gould presides over a weekly psychotherapy appointment with Dan Carver (Michael McKean, most recently in NBC's "Grand), a 42-year-old patient who is wrestling mightily with life in the middle-aged lane.

Each show evokes his responses to Dr. Bookbinder's probing technique, through flashback-style sequences that include Dan's dreams (often erotic), memories (often neurotic) and fantasies (a mixture of both).

Looming large are Dan's wife Carol, (Linda Kelsey), two kids (including Mr. Crystal's real daughter, Jennifer) and parents (John P. Connolly and Millie Slavin).

The show gets the curious process of therapy dead right, as Dan asks at one point, "Is that all we're supposed to do in here, pick apart all the intimate parts of my life, and I pay you for it?" Dr. Bookbinder doesn't even have to nod.

The subject matter is decidedly mature, frankly discussed and occasionally leads to near-nudity. Tonight's opener, for example, covers Dan's impotence, stemming from unresolved feelings about his parents' sexuality. The second show next week opens with his dream about twin stewardesses who tie him to the bedpost with his father's neckties.

Mr. Gould's therapist is reminiscent of a character he once played in a "Saturday Night Live" skit. (Remember? He conducted a group session that included John Belushi as The Godfather.) But Dr. Bookbinder also seems like a real professional, leaving little doubt that Mr. Crystal's creation has brought some real-life couch work to the screen.

Middle-aged men, particularly, may find Dan's emotional conflicts touching more than a few raw nerves. On the other hand, Dr. Bookbinder's stingy advice seems to have a good bit of wisdom. Can TV serve as therapist?

"Sessions" also seems a nice complement to another HBO series, the hilarious "Dream On" (which follows the new show). In that one, the mental processes of book editor Martin Tupper (Brian Benben) are illustrated with memories of old movie and TV sequences. (Mr. McKean has also had a recurring role in that show.)

The writing in "Sessions" (by Mr. Crystal and Fred Barron in the first two shows) is similarly crisp and funny.

For instance, seeking quiet time for some romance, Carol tells Dan she gave the kids "St. Joseph's Valium for children."

And in one session, after Dr. Bookbinder has said "wet dreams happen to be perfectly normal," Dan responds, "Why is it always that anything embarrassing or uncomfortable is perfectly normal to you?"

He demands to know what can be considered abnormal.

"Dressing dogs like people," says the doctor.

Give "Sessions" a chance. You may feel better.


THE RADIO CONNECTION -- Don't forget that local station WJHU-FM 88.1, and the national radio documentary "Soundprint" produced there, offer today a significant public education campaign on the subject of breast cancer, in observance of the American Cancer Society's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The first part of the production is a two-hour live, national call-in program, "Breaking the Silence," from 3 to 5 p.m. and hosted by National Public Radio's Susan Stamberg. Guests include the surgeon author of "Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book."

And at 6 p.m., "Soundprint" begins a three-part series on the subject with the program "A Primer on Breast Cancer." The previously heard show repeats at 6 p.m. Oct. 11.

Following next week (Oct. 12) is a repeat of "Reaching for Power Through the Pain" (repeating Oct. 18) and on Oct. 19 is a new program, "New Trends in Breast Cancer Research" (repeating Oct. 25).

All three productions are also available on audio cassettes for $20. (Write: Soundprint Cassettes, 2216 N. Charles St., Baltimore 21218, or call (800) 325-1616.)

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