[21 June 2012]
“It’s three-minute sessions, which is why it works. Nothing you’ve said in your fifty-minute sessions has ever even been slightly interesting until this. It’s like having a gun to your head.You’re forced to get to the issue and that’s why it works.”
—Fiona Wallice, Web Therapy
Web Therapy began as online series created by and starring Lisa Kudrow, and was picked up by Showtime with new material added. The series is almost too simple in concept to work as well as it does, but its largely improvised approach keeps it unexpected and always funny. The premise of the series centers on Fiona Wallice (Lisa Kudrow) as she decides to start a new career as an online therapist. Her unique approach is that sessions that only last three minutes, giving patients no time to talk around their problems, and instead forcing the clients to delve into them right away.
What’s of particular note is that Fiona has no real credentials to speak of – she’s very proud of her financial background and takes every opportunity to brag about graduating from the Wharton School of Business – when in fact she has no real understanding or respect for therapy. It ‘s immediately apparent that she is using her new venture as a way to be as successful as possible while doing the least amount of work.
Fiona’s relentlessly unprofessional approach has her insulting, minimizing, and often ignoring her patients. She’s completely self-serving and if a client isn’t furthering whatever latest scheme Fiona is working on, she is very quick to dispense with them and their problems. She’s more than willing to manipulate her patients for her own gains. She’s essentially a selfish character, albeit one often surrounded by people equally as unqualified in their own careers.
Her former professional life is cloaked in disgrace and shame, but that’s never completely explained. She obviously acted inappropriately with her boss, but that doesn’t stop her from advertising her new career to her former colleagues at Lachman Brothers where she remains a source of gossip. In addition, Fiona’s marriage to Kip (Victor Garber) is falling apart and her relationship with her mother (Lily Tomlin) is filled with jealously and bitterness.
Kudrow’s interactions with Tomlin are a highlight of the series as Fiona’s mother is as disconnected from reality, through virtue of her vast wealth, as Fiona is from how qualified she is as a therapist. Fiona struggles to get her mother to support her new career financially and her mother repeatedly resists, all the while fawning over a newly discovered long lost Vietnamese son.
Her patients vary from former co-workers that have had questionable personal relationships with Fiona, to an executive ordered to seek counseling for physically assaulting an employee, to a psychic in fear of losing her gift. What ‘s perhaps the best choice the series makes is that oftentimes, Fiona actually inadvertently stumbles upon real problems and solutions, as she does with fellow therapist Ted Mitchell (Bob Balaban) in one of the funniest episodes of the season. While she’s probably more dysfunctional than any of her patients, Fiona is so unreflective as to never question how her own personal failures would make her the last person equipped to offer guidance and advice to others.
Filled with great guest stars, such as the aforementioned Lily Tomlin and Bob Balaban, as well as Jane Lynch, Steven Weber, and Courteney Cox, among others, Web Therapy makes excellent use of its premise by having the entire series take place solely through the lens of Fiona’s computer. Whether seeing her in session with her patients, side by side onscreen, or on video chat with her mother and various employees, Fiona’s point of view is also the audience’s.
Also, because of the nature of the three-minute sessions, the half hour series is broken up into small pieces through the use of title cards. The short quotes that make up the title cards are often very funny on their own and they’re also a good way of pausing the various patients and other people in Fiona’s life.
Kudrow is hilarious as Fiona and the series is reminiscent of her previous show, the underrated The Comeback, in that she again plays a lead more concerned with her own success than anything else. The improvisational approach keeps the series fresh and shows just how capable her guests are in collaborating with creators Kudrow, Dan Bucatinsky, who also appears as Jerome, and Don Roos. Web Therapy has plenty more material to mine and Fiona will certainly continue to plot ways in which to gain more and more success, through whatever amusing and unorthodox means necessary.
The DVD release comes with audio commentaries for each episode with Kudrow, Bucatinsky, and Roos; a behind-the-scenes featurette; outtakes; and a season 2 preview. The featurette offers a nice look into how the cast improvises and general stories are mapped out for the season, and the outtakes (close to 40 minutes worth) are a lot of fun.