Reviews

Sit Down and Make Yourself Uncomfortable with: 'Web Therapy'

Lisa Kudrow is the backbone of the show and she is a master of the uncomfortable moment.


Web Therapy: The Complete Second Season

Distributor: Entertainment One
Cast: Lisa Kudrow, Dan Bucatinsky, Victor Garber, Lily Tomlin, Alan Cumming, Meryl Streep, Conan O'Brien, Rosie O'Donnell, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, David Schwimmer, Minnie Driver, Molly Shannon, Jennifer Elise Cox, Selma Blair, Rashida Jones, Julie Claire, Tim Bagley
Network: Showtime
Release date: 2013-06-18
Amazon

The second season of Showtime’s Web Therapy is actually comprised of seasons three and four of the web version. The season picks up soon after the first ended and continues to follow Fiona Wallice in her three-minute sessions online therapy practice. Her marriage to husband, Kip (Victor Garber), is falling apart, namely because he’s gay, and she’s starting a relationship with a former client, the wealthy Austen Clarke (Alan Cumming).

Kip’s run for Congress necessitates that Fiona still keep up appearance as the supportive, dutiful wife, particularly as rumors about him being gay are beginning to surface and potentially threaten his campaign. Complicating the situation is the fact that Austen is Kip’s backer and, therefore has a vested interest in seeing the Wallices continue their charade, however awkward it might be.

Kip’s congressional run is an ongoing story arc for the season and especially entertaining as he is sent to a center to “straighten” him out. The center is run by Camilla Bowner (Meryl Streep), girlish and more overtly sexual than Fiona, she is ridiculous, yet still capable of making Fiona second guess herself and her own desirability. Streep is a highlight of the season and a wonderful foil for Kudrow. Part of what makes Fiona so immensely watchable is her complete lack of self-awareness and Kudrow expertly plays up both her voice – a strange put-upon society voice – as well as her facial expressions to convey her superiority and perceived upper hand. Her scenes opposite Streep are both hilarious and cringe-worthy and a wonderful showcase for both talents.

As Austen is busier and busier he hands off the responsibility of dealing with Fiona and her book – a storyline carried over from the previous season – to his assistant, Maxine DeMaine (Rosie O’Donnell). Maxine is devoutly Catholic and unafraid to speak honestly to Fiona. Her naked disdain for Fiona provides yet another premise for Kudrow to shine. One conversation about buying the book Catholicism for Dummies is especially amusing and another example of the excellent rapport between Kudrow and the show’s guest stars.

Fiona’s mother, Putsy Hodge (Lily Tomlin), was featured in the previous season and she continues to be a terrific counterpoint to her daughter. Where Fiona is high-strung and overly concerned with appearances, Putsy is completely over-the-top and herself, regardless of circumstance. She is committed to a mental institution and for some unfathomable reason becomes obsessed with puppeteering. Her online calls to Fiona become increasingly bizarre and are some of the funniest moments in the season, particularly when Putsy fears she has killed her roommate. Tomlin and Kudrow have a great chemistry together and their scenes are a pleasure to watch.

In addition to Putsy, this season we are introduced to her sister, Shevaun Haig (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Shevaun and Fiona have a contentious, competitive relationship, especially as Shevaun is a psychoanalyst. They are both manipulative and not above using their childhoods and parental relationships to hurt one another. Like Fiona, Shevaun is self-centered and ruthless when it comes to getting what she wants, making their sisterly dynamic more aggressive than not. Louis-Dreyfus is always great at playing neurotic and on the edge and she gets a chance to shine here, as she frequently seems to be at her breaking point, both professionally and personally.

Another therapy patient this season is Conan O’Brien playing himself. He seeks out Fiona to deal with his anger issues, particularly in dealing with Andy Richter. Fiona has no idea who he is and makes light of his success over and over until she finally watches his show, prompting her to voice her favoritism of Andy, as unprofessionally as always. Conan’s anger leads to blackmail and further shenanigans that show once again just how improper Fiona’s relationships are with her patients.

The series also continues its focus on Fiona’s assistant, Jerome Sokoloff (Dan Bucatinsky, also a producer and writer on the show) and his tumultuous relationship with Hayley (Rashida Jones) as they embark on parenthood by hiring a surrogate, Tammy (Selma Blair). Jerome is perpetually bumbling, but willing to put up with Fiona’s abuse, making him invaluable to her, regardless of his competence. Bucatinsky is always fun to watch, in part because his desperation to be liked is matched only by Fiona’s.

Web Therapy continues to be as funny and engaging a series as it was in its first season. Kudrow is the backbone of the show and she is a master of the uncomfortable moment. The guest stars are always used well in that they serve the material faithfully. The series never comes off as trying to show off, rather it matches characters to actors in ways that may push their personas to extremes, but it’s always done with enough commitment to the show as to make that more important.

The DVD set contains several extras, including a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, two director’s cut episodes, a music video, and a gag reel. The director’s cut episodes include Streep and O’Brien and they offer some nice bonus material. The gag reel is also especially funny, although much of it is featured in snippets at the end of each episode.

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