Shows Without Music

I just watched the season premiere of In Treatment (based, like the previous season’s episodes, on an episode of the Israeli show it’s based on); the session takes place in a law office, where Paul finds that a former patient will be representing him in a malpractice case. The show still is what it was last year: compelling and claustrophobic. In a way, despite the soap opera format, In Treatment is weirdly reminiscent of a certain type of half-hour sitcom, the Norman Lear type of show that has few characters and few sets, and does many episodes in something resembling real time. Most sitcoms today, even the multi-camera ones, have multiple scenes and sets in every episode, so it takes In Treatment to remind us of the virtues of doing an episode that’s literally like a one-act stage play. Also, the format of the season premiere reminded me a little of some episodes of Frasier in the way Paul uses his therapy skills no matter where he is, and winds up helping people who are supposed to help him. I’m not saying In Treatment is a sitcom, just that it has some of the qualities we used to associate with such things.

It also occurred to me that while I’ve said often that network TV shows have too much background music these days, HBO almost has the exact opposite policy: while they operate on a case-by-case basis, they clearly feel that shows shouldn’t overdo it on the music. They’ve had plenty of shows like The Sopranos and The Wire which use only source music. And one of the big differences between In Treatment and the original series, Betipul, is that the original series has plenty of background music, much like the regular soap operas it’s emulating; it uses mood music to underscore and emphasize emotional scenes.

But on In Treatment, the score is used much more sparingly. The season premiere has only one music sting besides the main title and the ending: there’s a musical score for a silent scene where Byrne walks around the office and gets a sense of what’s in there and what it says about the lawyer. Otherwise it’s all ambient noise, particularly the jackhammers from the street, which are then referred to in an important speech. Even big emotional moments tend to be un-scored. It’s not necessarily better or worse, though I do think that makers of North American “art” TV are a little suspicious of mood music (and correspondingly, a little too anxious to use source music), but just an example of the HBO approach.

By the way, for a sort of backhanded preview of the new season of In Treatment, here is the opening scene of the same episode (that is, the second season premiere of In Treatment) in the original Israeli version. Click “Continue” to see it. Most of this scene, like its counterpart in the American version, is un-scored, but it does use music at the beginning when the main character is walking to the door, which the American version does not.

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