Lisa Kudrow's Web Therapy
A Friend reemerges with a spectacular improvised online series.
Valerie Cherish would get eaten alive if she ever became a client on Web Therapy, an alternately spectacular and uncomfortable online series that premiered on LStudio.com last fall. Cherish, a washed-up sitcom star portrayed by Lisa Kudrow on HBO’s 2005 series The Comeback, lucklessly tried to recapture the spotlight. Web Therapy’s Fiona Wallice, a self-serving, self-absorbed midlevel businesswoman turned Internet shrink—also played by Kudrow—would reduce the hapless Cherish to tears.
Both plum roles followed the decade Kudrow spent as dim-bulb Phoebe Buffay on Friends. Unlike Cherish, who disappeared after just 13 low-rated (yet amazing) episodes, Wallice seems likely to stick around (Web Therapy is in its second season). Kudrow, who co-created Web Therapy with production partner Dan Bucatinsky and longtime collaborating director Don Roos, admits she was reluctant when Lexus, which was launching a site for original, Web-based entertainment, approached them. “A few years ago, we were asked if we wanted to come up with a Web series, and the answer was, ‘No, not really,’_” she says. “When I dismiss something out of hand, my brain just keeps working on it anyway. I kept thinking, Something on the Web should really be about the Web. Then I thought the dumbest thing in the world, which could be funny, is a therapist who will only do sessions online for three minutes with an iChat. It’s just a really bad idea.”
In Web Therapy, Wallice schedules three online sessions (or three five-minute webisodes) with each of her clients. In ostensibly helping them, she reveals her own selfish motives. While treating a high-powered exec (the excellent Jane Lynch), Wallice manipulates her client’s connections to promote her Web-therapy concept.
Each episode’s ick factor recalls The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm. But unlike most shows, Web Therapy isn’t at the mercy of network execs. “Usually you’ve got certain needs to meet if you’re dealing with a network or a studio. There’s an audience you have to try and reach,” Kudrow says. “This is just us. Lexus underwrites us, but really there are no provisions for doing this. That’s one of the good things, not being on a network where you have to dance as fast as you can to get as many people watching it as quickly as possible, otherwise you’re going to be canceled.”
That flexibility also has given Kudrow, an alum of L.A.’s improv-based Groundlings Theatre, the chance to shoot Web Therapy as a scriptless show informed only by brief outlines. “We thought that since they’re going to be short, let’s just improvise,” she says. “But the truth is, the shorter something is, the more structured it needs to be.” The show has featured, as Wallice’s clients, improv talent such as Lynch and Bob Balaban as well as old Friend Courteney Cox, who guest stars as a psychic on this week’s episode.
Beyond its character-driven appeal (last month, Kudrow won a Webby Award for Outstanding Comedic Performance), Web Therapy’s strongest asset is its juicy parody of Internet-based schemes. Kudrow points out that, online, “absolutely anyone can say, ‘I provide a service.’ Because there’s such a huge reach on the Internet, even if it’s the worst idea in the world, which this is, at least a small percentage of people might like it.”
Despite critical acclaim, Web Therapy isn’t likely to appear on the idiot box any time soon. “If there’s a third season, we’ll think about what that is,” Kudrow says. “One can’t help but keep it moving in some sort of arc direction, which might make it appropriate for TV, but we’ll see; that’s a big commitment. I did Friends. That was the huge monster hit. Now [I] can just do things that are fun and good, you know?”