The Patient debuts on Hulu with two episodes on Tuesday, Aug. 30. The remaining eight episodes will release weekly, on Tuesdays.
The creative team behind The Americans — writers Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, and director Chris Long — is back with a gripping new series. The Patient is smaller in scope but, like The Americans, it showcases what could be a pulpy premise, one filled with cheap thrills, and firmly grounds it in slow-burn tension and earnest drama. Steve Carell and Domhnall Gleeson star in what’s basically a “serial killer in therapy” series, but none of it is delivered for laughs as this hook is played totally straight, making everything nicely believable.
Though there other characters, this is really Carell and Gleeson’s show, with Carell diving headlong into understated drama, Gleeson portraying a sociopath who desperately wants to change, and the script making all the right moves so that we can believe a rather harrowing, anxiety-riddled set-up. It’s not uncommon for a weekly streaming series to give us two or three episodes right out of the gate, so that viewers can invest more at the front end and, hopefully, choose to continue. For The Patient, which runs shorter episodes (at about a half hour) anyhow, it’s absolutely necessary since more than a few metaphoric walls need to get broken down in order for Carell’s therapist, Alan Strauss, to agree to help a madman.
Because — not to give too much away — Alan’s not doing it of his own free will, at least not at first. These first two chapters — “Intake” and “Alan Learns to Meditate” — are crucial in getting him (and us!) to a place where the proper maniac therapy can even start. You’ll find a lot of modern tricks of the trade in the two-part premiere, like an in media res opening, multiple flashbacks throughout, and the use of dreams as backstory fillers, but these format breakers are more forgivable here since we’d otherwise just be watching a two-person play.
Carell is wonderful as a serious, caring mental health professional, with a haunted recent past (that will surely get explained over the course of the season), who begins treating a mysterious man for “anger issues.” This man, Gleeson’s character, can’t fully share his true nature with Alan, so they hit a dead end with the therapy. The man then gets desperate — and things get dark — when Alan wakes up in cellar, chained to a bed. It’s a bonkers start but, as mentioned, the episodes do the necessary work, despite Alan being terrified beyond belief, to get them talking.
The key here is Gleeson’s killer truly wanting to better himself. And Gleeson, though showing hints of a fractured mind, is great at coming off as sincere in his character’s efforts to heal and improve. He hates living the way he does, and feeling the urges he feels, so one can find a small pocket of sympathy for him while knowing what he’s doing to Alan is horrific. He’s also been made a “foodie,” which is a fun way to illustrate his need for rigidity and an ability to appreciate finer things.
Sure, the FX on Hulu “hub” is no more but The Patient is still an FX-developed series streaming in the same manner as shows like Devs, Reservation Dogs, The Bear, and a handful of others were. This is brought up only to highlight that FX is a place where excellent shows are being made by both new voices and old favorites (like this Americans team, or Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine from Black Sails making The Old Man). The Patient is another reminder that those who created some of our favorite shows from the last decade are out here doing new, thrilling things.
Like The Americans, the Patient is able to generate intrigue from quiet and suspense in a slower, deliberate pace. It’s heightened but never so much as to push us away or disengage us from the characters. Carell is our “in” here, as an everyman pushed into survival mode but it’s Gleeson who’s the key to unlocking this. He’s exceptional in portraying a man-made monster willing to do the work. If he’d come off too ghoulish, this would’ve become more of a horror story than necessary.