NEW YORK — For 11 seasons, John Mahoney played the father of two shrinks.
With his return to series TV, Mahoney now plays a father who’s seeing a shrink. And unlike his classic comedy “Frasier,” he isn’t playing this for laughs.
“In Treatment,” which begins its second season Sunday on HBO, is a far-from-funny drama starring Gabriel Byrne as psychotherapist Dr. Paul Weston, who, while wrestling with his own demons, has a private practice with a medley of troubled clients.
Among them: Mia (Hope Davis), a former client and an attorney whose firm Weston hires to defend him in a malpractice lawsuit; Oliver (Aaron Shaw), an 11-year-old boy caught in the crossfire between his warring parents (Russell Hornsby and Sherri Saum); and April (Alison Pill), an architecture student who recently learned she has cancer but refuses to get medical help or even tell her parents. Meanwhile, Weston, newly divorced and relocated in Brooklyn, catches Amtrak each week to return to Maryland for his own therapy with Dr. Gina Toll (Dianne Wiest, who won an Emmy last season in this role).
The riveting seven-week-long series airs half-hour episodes that focus on Mia, then April, from 9 to 10 p.m. each Sunday. Each Monday, back-to-back episodes with Oliver, Walter (Mahoney’s character), and Gina begin at 9 p.m. EDT.
On “Frasier,” Mahoney played a feisty retired Seattle cop who lives with one son and sees plenty of the other. “In Treatment” finds him as an aging but still driven CEO who never sees his grown children. But that’s not why he’s there. At his wife’s insistence, he has come for a quick fix for his chronic insomnia.
“Tell me what my problem is and what I need to do,” Walter barks at Weston with a CEO’s impatience.
“Walter doesn’t want to be there and he’s extremely defensive,” explains Mahoney. “Then huge problems start to emerge that he kept buried for a long time. His insomnia is the least of it. He’s fighting for his job, fighting for his sanity.”
Now 68, Mahoney hadn’t been looking for another TV series after “Frasier” ended in 2004.
For one thing, the British-born Mahoney has called Chicago home since coming to America in his late teens, and he didn’t want a project that might keep him away for another lengthy stretch. (He describes shooting the LA-based “Frasier” as “basically living out of a suitcase for 11 years.”)