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Kindly therapist Alan Strauss takes on a patient, Sam Fortner, who later kidnaps him and chains him up in his basement. Sam is desperate to curb his enthusiasm for serial killing, and he demands the good doctor make a — permanent? — house call to try to help him.
The Office and Minions star Steve Carell plays Dr. Strauss (Alan), while powerhouse Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, Unbroken, and the Harry Potter and Star Wars movie franchises) goes toe-to-toe with him as the frantic Sam (who sometimes uses the alias Gene).
David Alan Grier (In Living Color and a Tony winner for A Soldier’s Play) plays Alan’s former therapist Charlie, and the series was created by Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, who also created one of the best and most underrecognized TV dramas of all time, The Americans.
Steve Carell may always be most associated with his role as sometimes obnoxious, sometimes endearing paper company boss Michael Scott or the voice of Gru in Minions, but this 10-episode psychological thriller features his best performance to date.
It begins with the first minute of the terse, 21-minute premiere, in which Alan wakes up in a strange room in a strange bed, and panics only when he gets out of the bed and realizes he’s chained to the floor next to it. No amount of yanking on the chain nor screaming towards the sliding glass doors of the room are going to set him free, especially once he learns why he’s there. His patient “Gene” has brought him to his home in a secluded woodsy area because he wants Alan’s help. “Gene” was a fake name; he’s actually Sam, and what Sam had revealed to Alan in his office sessions was a vague, partial story. It’s true that Gene had been horribly abused as a child by his father, but when he told Alan the consequences of that abuse are that he is unhappy and antisocial, he failed to mention that he’s also a serial murderer. He often becomes obsessed with violent vengeance against people who he feels have wronged him, and thanks to a book of Alan’s he read — and the few office sessions they had that left Alan to conclude he could only help Gene if they could be open and honest with each other — Sam decides his basement is the only place that can happen. So he kidnaps Alan from his home.
This sets off a tense back and forth, and two stellar performances that are largely set in Sam’s sparsely decorated basement. The setting, and more importantly the storyline’s almost singular focus on Alan and Sam, make us feel like we’re watching a two-man play, a riveting production that is much more intimate than the usual therapist/patient television scenes.
Despite the nearly impossible task before him and the stakes of that task (Alan is trying to save his own life while also trying to keep Sam from killing anyone else in the process), the therapist can focus in on his goals and makes a sincere effort at treating Sam. Here we see, or rather hear, a particularly powerful and effective bit of voicework from Carell. He trains Alan’s voice to remain meticulously soothing and nurturing in his daily chats with Sam, when we see in other moments, alone in his basement prison, he is rattled, terrified for himself and the others he knows Sam will likely kill.
Several subplots pepper Alan and Sam’s stories, including two that add to Alan’s determination to make it out of Sam’s house alive: he is grieving his recently deceased wife, and he wants to make amends with his son, Ezra, and Ezra’s family. Ezra, Alan, and his wife had been alienated from each other after Ezra converted to Orthodox Judaism and embraced a more conservative outlook. With his wife gone, Alan feels responsible for bringing their family back together, no matter how unlikely it may seem that he can escape Sam’s clutches.
And about Sam: what makes his story so compelling, in addition to Fields’ and Weisberg’s fine writing and the oddly endearing, yet still plenty creepy portrayal by Gleeson, is that this is truly a psychological thriller. There are some moments of physical violence, but they come well after we’ve spent the slow build to an understanding of what makes Sam who he is, allows him to do what he does, and what pushes him to want to stop, too. This focus on the why instead of a focus on the details of how is what permits us to hope there is an out for Alan, and, somehow, maybe even Sam.
The Patient is a sharply-written character study and tense thriller propelled by a pair of Emmy-worthy performances, delightfully unbloated run times (several episodes are less than 30 minutes long), and the perhaps heartbreaking hope against hope that the story will not end tragically.
Your favorite fellow fans of premium TV drama who have so many other shows on their watchlists that they will especially appreciate a smart, gripping experience that unfolds in just ten half-hour episodes.
Sam is a big fan of country music superstar Kenny Chesney and his “No Shoes Nation,” and Chesney gave the production permission to use his music in episodes.
Where to find it: Hulu