Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Web Therapy: “Adaptation”

Illustration for article titled Web Therapy: “Adaptation”

It seems like only yesterday I was calling Fiona Wallice a hero. Back then, though, Fiona was powerless, on the brink of isolation from Kip, Austen, and any fame whatsoever. That Fiona was busy taking down the demagogues who, for example, would organize a whole day when Americans could politely obey their politicians and line up at fast-food restaurants in order to show their neighbors how unwelcome they are, and all in the name of fighting majority persecution. It’s great when Regina George is on your side, but she is at heart a Plastic. And at this age, in this age, an ossified one. Not that Fiona was ever in it for the righteousness, but now that she has some power, she certainly isn’t interested in wielding it upward. She just wants to maintain that perch. Which is bad news for the four women in her way this week.

“Adaptation” flooded my mind with pop-culture images, from Sterling Archer’s total enrampagement to Walter White’s methodical tactics. But those aren’t quite right. No, what Fiona pulls off in “Adaptation” is the conversational cousin of The Sopranos. Her enemies range from loose cannons (Kirsten) to loose ends (Gina) to allies who aren’t sufficiently respectful (Allegra), and Hayley’s arrest is just about sending a message. The Sopranos comparison isn’t just feckless structuralism. Web Therapy is full of that Sopranos acid in its blackly comic representation of Modern Life. They’re two of the handful of 21st century dramas pinpointing selfishness as a nasty, destructive, momentous force, pegged to money on The Sopranos and notoriety on Web Therapy. It’s just that Tony has physical force, and Fiona has only her words.

Like Tony Soprano, Fiona Wallice is animated entirely by the baser spirits of the day. James Gandolfini’s Tony is a bull whose stubbornness comes from constantly overestimating himself. Lisa Kudrow’s Fiona is smarter, more transparently a performance, the better to live a life of plausible deniability. As I’ve said, I appreciate that Fiona is too grating for some; the preposterous bellowing of Walter White has kept me out of whole episodes of Breaking Bad. But artifice is the name of the game on Web Therapy. The way Fiona raises her voice on certain words to make them sound ridiculous (“I may have left out a citation, or 25 of them, but that doesn’t mean I was plagiarizing anybody”) is a sort of performance art, Fiona trying to shape the world in her image. She’s the god of passive-aggression. She starts with a subtle dig, but Kudrow keeps Fiona restless, dissatisfied until her opponent recognizes that Fiona’s smile is really just a vampire baring her teeth. She cuts through bullshit with ease (“You slept in a tent and wore jewelry, all right”), and she’s a monument to ingratitude (“I’ll take that as a compliment somehow”). Best of all, Kudrow always takes her time with her lines, like she’s thinking up the words as she goes, and I guess she basically is, but even in improv television there are multiple takes. I imagine Web Therapy is closer to writing on a magic drawing pad and then lifting up the plastic for each take. The point is, the technique is awfully involving. Spontaneity (or simulated spontaneity) anchors the show in the present, which is especially beneficial to a series this concerned with the present.

It’s amazing and monotonous to see Web Therapy do so much with windowed one-shots. I would love to have seen Fiona’s trip to Hollywood—I was already picturing Minnie Driver and Rashida Jones singing the theme to Prairie Days as Lisa Kudrow rolls her eyes and interrupts—and if any show can contrive a reason for Fiona’s trip to appear via webcam, or for a scene to break the format entirely, it’s Web Therapy. But that’s not how this show works. This is a show that squeezes a whole scene between the trip and the moment when the audience finds out Hayley was arrested at the airport and Allegra’s off the wagon. The show itself is passive-aggressively acting like this huge news is an inconsequential detail.

And what a rap sheet! Fiona pretends to make up with Kirsten only to reveal that Austen bought Blogger and deleted her stories (which were libelous, yes, but also Kirsten’s passion) before delivering a catty parting shot: “I wish you well Kirsten.” “It’s Kirstine!” Fiona plants cuticle scissors in Hayley’s luggage all so she can have Hayley’s business-class seat, Hayley's crime being that Jerome used 10 of Fiona’s miles to pay for it. Fiona manipulates Gina into trading her health (shellfish allergies) for the fleeting pleasures of being the only woman at a cannery in Nome, Alaska. And Fiona coaxes alcoholic Allegra to take a drink at her boss’ house, and then leaves, confident that Allegra will sink herself. Now Fiona is back in Pennsylvania, riding her husband’s coattails, backed by a super-mogul, and writing the film adaptation of her manuscript. And still Web Therapy remains at a loud ironic distance. “Adaptation” is the end of The Godfather played for laughs.

Stray observations:

  • “How can you be an actress and not know who Bette Davis is?” Allegra says, “Because I’m a different generation and we make our own way and we inspire ourselves.” I bet in the finale, we find out this entire series exists in the daydream of a toddler named Baudrillard.
  • It’s almost moving to see Allegra wind up lost in the meaningless existential crisis, “This? Or this?”
  • Great moments in Minnie Driver: The neckless, little-girl, “Fine!” way she agrees to watch some Bette Davis.
  • For a moment there, Fiona pretends to trade her reputation for the support of the lesbian community. At first I felt like she would totally do that—there is no principle too dear that Fiona wouldn’t sacrifice it for attention—but to think Fiona might have something other than ambition in common with Leslie Knope puts the lie to that notion.
  • More indiscretions in Fiona’s past: massively plagiarizing in college and sleeping with a married professor. “I left it out of the book because he has a family, and I don’t want—I mean, now he has a…  different family.” Yikes.
  • Web Therapy had a boomlet after Kirsten posted a link to it on her blog, not that the Energizer bunny has time for all that work.
  • Allegra is so wise. “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. I mean, I have many drag queens who dress like me.” She says this to the woman she’ll be imitating.
  • The Wallice marriage is so healthy. “It’s something we have in common, our love of Bette Davis”
  • I’m going to miss Allegra. “I don’t really connect through the camera.” “You’re an actress who doesn’t connect through the camera?”
  • “And just so you know, Sunrise, the very reputable porn company out of Nova Scotia, they want to do the porn version of this book. It’s called Whistling While I Whacked.”