The bite-sized, online therapy sessions that Lisa Kudrow's Fiona Wallace doles out on Web Therapy aren't really the worst way to harness a little inventiveness. The time constraints — just three minutes! — and her raging ineptitude as a therapist makes the prospect of her business booming anytime soon pretty unlikely but part of what makes the improvised web series-turned-Showtime-series work is the underlying realization that even therapy might eventually get boiled down to all the intimacy of a tech support call.
In its premiére episode, Fiona enlists her husband Kip, played by the fantastically upper-crust Victor Garber, to pull up his iChat and first try out her new "modality" before heading off to his job as a hotshot lawyer. In their brief, mock session we learn between stifled snips and jabs that the couple has a tangle of their own marital issues, including sexual frustration and financial stress (particularly since Fiona up and left her lucrative job at Lachman Brothers financial firm) as well as an underlying sameness that makes them function together. He's also an unenthusiastic avenue for his burgeoning entrepreneur-wife to wrangle more clients, as she reminds him to "tell the partners and junior partners in your firm what a wonderful modality this is" on his way out the door.
Wallace also checks in with her first client and former employer Richard (Tim Bagley) and immediately engages in an awkward verbal dance surrounding a romantic interlude the two shared that she'd rather paint as unreciprocated. Yet, news that he's since moved on from their office lust and has a new girlfriend only brings out a cartoonishly visible jealous streak in Fiona, leading her to mute his chat window and curtly called "time."
As far as bumbling pushovers go, Richard is neither the first nor the last in this episode to engage Fiona, as we soon learn when another client Jerome tries to take his mother lode of a psychological problem to another therapist. Hearing he's just uncovered a messy issue involving his sperm donor dad and girlfriend's lesbian parents — that also happens to veer well into ridiculousness — Fiona kicks into high gear and badgers her potential cash cow into returning for plenty more of her branded micro-sessions.
Given the fact the show's webisodes were originally all under seven minutes, the transition to a full half-hour show is one that takes some significant recalibrating. There’s certainly clunky moments and tricky constraints, particularly the fact that the entire show takes place on Fiona’s somewhat drab desktop with only tiny views from iChat windows. But Kudrow and Garber, particularly, bring such a twinkly effortlessness as actors that one can forgive the more stilted moments.
Since her Friends days Kudrow has gravitated towards a specific type of self-indulgent ladder-climber, as on her well-received and short-lived series The Comeback. Her Fiona can be a tad grating in moments thanks to her higher-pitched, snooty voice but Kudrow's clear enjoyment at inhabiting characters with a grab bag assortment of unlikable human traits is evident. Given the fact that Meryl Streep and Jane Lynch are also appearing over the course of the season, it's worth seeing where Fiona's crackpot business plan heads next.
- One downside of internet therapy: "It's hard for me to tell if you've gained or lost weight. There's a lot of material."
- Anyone else feel like Fiona's constant use of the word "modality" is just getting started here?
- Looking forward to finally getting to meet this Jeremy from Fiona's former workplace after so many mentions.
- Yikes on the Gina Spinks receptionist character… except for her compliment to Fiona, "Your hair is so pretty. It's like a wig."