Domhnall Gleeson and Steve Carell

Domhnall Gleeson and Steve Carell

Courtesy of FX
Steve Carell

Steve Carell

Suzanne Tenner/FX
Steve Carell and Domhnall Gleeson

Steve Carell and Domhnall Gleeson

Suzanne Tenner/FX
Joe Weisberg

Joe Weisberg

Douglas Gorenstein/FX
Joel Fields

Joel Fields

Sarah Shatz/FX
Fill 1
Fill 1
September 08, 2022
In The Mix

A Patient Duo

Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, a producing pair who love a good walk-and-talk, create a killer who goes to extremes to be talked out of crime on FX's The Patient.

You couldn't hope for a better start as producing partners. Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg's first collaboration, The Americans, was acclaimed as one of the greatest shows in television history.

Created by Weisberg — and with "the Js," as they're called, coshowrunning and executive-producing — the FX spy drama ran for six seasons. It brought the pair five Emmy nominations (two for outstanding drama series and three for outstanding writing) and one win, for writing in 2018. And it elevated the Js into the ranks of the showrunning elite.

Now the duo's newest series, FX's The Patient, is streaming on Hulu. It's an engrossing psychological thriller in the most literal sense, as prominent psychotherapist Alan Strauss (Steve Carell) is taken hostage by a serial killer (Domhnall Gleeson), who wants Alan to cure him of his homicidal urges.

Weisberg, who once worked for the CIA, is a novelist turned TV writer whose credits include Falling Skies and Damages. Fields, who began his career as a prolific producer of TV movies, became a playwright and TV writer; his credits include Fosse/Verdon, for which he was Emmy-nominated. The Js chatted via Zoom with emmy contributor Graham Flashner about their new show, their professional relationship and why the impending demise of linear TV doesn't faze them.

How did The Patient come into being?

Joel Fields: We both have an appreciation and interest in psychotherapy, which has been important in both of our lives. We were talking about various ways to tell a story that could explore the aspects of self-discovery that have been so important to us, and then we asked each other one day, What if a serial killer kidnapped a therapist and demanded to be cured — and actually meant it?

How did you set about constructing the character of Sam, the patient?

Joe Weisberg: We wanted to construct a serial killer who was connected enough to his emotional world to realize he was doing something terrible and wanted to stop. In other words, he was not who you usually see in the movies, which is just a killing machine. He was a human being with regrets and feelings, and he was going to go as far as you could imagine a person could go to try to stop himself. That was really the inspiration for the whole show.

Once Alan is taken hostage, it's revealed that he has his own unresolved emotional issues. What will his journey be through the course of this ordeal?

JF: Alan, through his captivity, is going to find he has no choice but to begin examining and reexamining his own life, even things he thought were settled and that he thought he already fully understood. That is part of the longer arc of the story we are going to be telling over these ten episodes.

In The Patient, it's important to Sam to find a Jewish therapist. Why?

JW: We're interested in the notion of the positive stereotype, and what does it mean? In Sam's head, the best therapist is Jewish. Is that anti-Semitic? Flattering? Is it somehow both? And what happens when it's a serial killer who's thinking that? Then it gets pretty complex in a way we're interested in exploring.

JF: It's hard to miss that part of anti-Semitism is the targeting of Jews as nefariously superior. What does it mean to live in a society that, on some level, has unconsciously ingested that trope?

The two of you had never met before you started working together on The Americans. What was that like?

JW: We were essentially recommended to each other by our agent and [FX Networks chairman] John Landgraf — with a set of assurances that we were almost certain to like each other and get along, to the point that if we didn't, we probably would've thought something was wrong with us.

We had a long phone call and could tell we had a lot in common and saw a lot of things the same way. But I don't think you could have predicted that we would develop the professional and personal relationship we have, especially in an industry littered with coshowrunners who sometimes want to murder each other.

JF: The first season of The Americans was intense. There were more mornings that we saw the sunrise in our office together than we were home with our wives.

One thing we found ourselves doing was, we would talk through any feelings we had about our collaboration. Whenever there was anything we thought might be uncomfortable, we would — like two insane people — stop making a first-year show, take a walk for twenty, thirty minutes and just talk. Then we'd feel better and go back to working all night on the show. That was enormously bonding... and led us to shackle a fictional therapist to a floor.

What's your working process like?

JW: We discovered early on that we were most effective and happiest when we did everything together. We work as sort of a two-brained hybrid. And we find that creates our best work.

JF: We know some showrunner-collaborators who'll say, "You take the first draft of this, I'll take the edit of that." For us, it's always most effective to do it together.

Joe, working for "The Company" made you skilled in the art of deception. Did that work to your advantage in Hollywood?

JW: Having a little bit of a background with the CIA created a big open door in Hollywood, because Hollywood is interested in spies, and I had some firsthand experience. As a way to get into a career quickly, it was very helpful. [But] I had a lot of therapy and became very allergic to deception. That absolutely served me well in Hollywood, in part because I found my home at FX, which functions on openness, clarity and honesty.

Joel, how did you segue from producing TV movies to writing on series?

JF: I was writing plays from the time I was twelve years old. As a TV movie producer, I was writing stories and pitches and selling those, and writing on the side. I had always told myself that I was eventually going to do more producing of my own writing and less producing of the writing of others.

Are there any upcoming projects you both can talk about?

JF: We're producing — but not showrunning — a new show for FX called Kindred, written by a wonderful playwright, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings predicts that linear TV will be dead within the next five to ten years. Does that affect you at all?

JF: Weirdly, don't care. As long as we get to keep telling stories, and as long as human beings continue to connect through stories, that's all that matters.

JW: The fact that there's a phrase "linear TV" is pretty amusing.

Devoted fans of The Americans are likely still obsessing over whether Renee (Laurie Holden), the wife of FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), was a KGB spy. So, was she or wasn't she?

JW: You'd have to torture us to get it out of us. And what you would get would be our interpretations, not the truth.

JF: We wrote the ending we wrote. The rest is up to anybody to be frustrated by.

Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg are cocreators, coshowrunners, executive producers and writers of The Patient. Also executive-producing are Steve Carell, Caroline Moore, Victor Hsu and Chris Long.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #10, 2022, under the title, "Talking It Out."

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