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

Web Therapy: “The Insanity Offense”

Illustration for article titled Web Therapy: “The Insanity Offense”

“The Insanity Offense” is the summer’s most delicious meal. Selma Blair’s Tammy whets the palate with the world’s lamest extortion attempt. Seriously, her leverage is the presumed emotional attachment from Fiona to Jerome! I mean, Fiona’s last name is spelled “Wallice”: “Wall” + “Ice”. Girl obviously did not do her homework here. What is her plan, anyway? At some point she’d be required to produce triplets, right? Even Dee Reynolds fulfills her end of the bargain (or plans to, anyway) in the trading-a-baby-for-nine-months-of-luxury scheme. If the plan is just to bilk one couple, she picked the wrong couple, financially speaking. And I suspect that surrogacy agencies would be able to discover a criminal of Tammy’s intelligence if she tries to go after another couple. Underneath Web Therapy is this core selfishness, but this goes way beyond the typical millennial entitlement that charges so many scenes. It’s actually a little disturbing to see how credible Tammy’s high-school-style manipulation is, how realisticly Blair plays it. She makes up a huge lie about Hayley not wanting Jerome’s sperm—though it could have some truth to it—then reneges on it, then reveals her padded stomach at the drop of a “fat” (you’re welcome). The way Blair delivers the “gullible” defense is so spot-on it gives me flashbacks to junior high.

Next we get our appetizer: Lily Tomlin’s humongous bowl of meds. Fiona’s mother is now living in a mental hospital and having the time of her life. Except her roommate Mabel choked to death on some of the prescription drugs Putsy was dealing. It’s a crazy scene, even for Lily Tomlin: Putsy’s dressed as an old-fashioned nurse (“I have a performance tonight, here at the asylum”), she’s playing with sock puppet versions of herself and Mabel, and her backless costume causes Fiona to ask, “Are you wearing a fake bottom or did you have work done?” Tomlin escalates the scene so subtly, not just with the gradual introduction of the sock puppets but also in the unannounced switch from the sandwich bag containing a few pills to a giant bowl of candy. What’s really crazy, though, is trying to figure out what’s real. Just like Tammy’s story, Putsy’s is at times logical and coherent and at other times obviously delusional. And like with Tammy, it could just ring that way out of survival instinct. Putsy could be genuinely losing it, or she could be playing that way to get the titular “insanity offense” in case she’s implicated in Mabel’s death.

The darkness only builds to the main course, Fiona’s straight-faced, spontaneous tour de force blackmail of Conan O’Brien. Okay, someone dies in the Lily Tomlin scene, but that’s accidental. This is some serious, high-stakes, sociopathic poker. And Putsy is far less central to Web Therapy the show than Web Therapy the brand, which receives its biggest boost yet. It’ll be interesting to see what happens, but as it stands now, Conan O’Brien agrees to let Fiona guest and promote her work on his show so that nobody finds out about his revenge scheme gone awry. Best of all, it didn’t go awry. But without missing a beat, Fiona drops into the conversation that the tree Conan’s band chopped down landed on Jerome. Conan’s mostly acting out of self-interest—this is, after all, Web Therapy—but he does express some concern for Jerome. It’s his weakness. Fiona gets the better of both extortion scenes because she has almost no compassion. That final, lingering shot of her staring at the camera as Jerome comes back with her coffee is beautiful, creating a conspiracy between her and the audience. It’s like she’s trying not to call attention to herself even now. “Oh?” It’s not for nothing that she’s still recording.

Again we have no way of knowing what’s true. Is Fiona really recording? Or is that just the perfect gamble? Tammy’s “small business” metaphor is hilarious, but it’s a lot more apt in Fiona’s case. She capitalizes on an incredible opportunity without thinking twice. Conan says the recording is the closest he’ll come to a sex-tape scandal. When Fiona pokes holes in the metaphor, he retracts, and she says, “Well, you call it a sex tape.” I just about fell over: Fiona’s practicing therapy! Granted it’s her skewed, acidic, upper-hand version of therapy, but she’s observing how Conan’s revealing himself and interacting with the world in ways that he doesn’t notice. Let’s not give Fiona too much credit, though. Conan first comes to her out of jealousy toward Andy Richter, and as she negotiates to guest on Conan, she adds, “Preferably on a night when Andy is guest-hosting.” Conan says it’d be a train wreck. And Fiona responds with a chestnut that’s basically a thesis for Web Therapy: “People love to watch train wrecks, though.”

For dessert, the darkest scene yet. David Schwimmer’s Newell is pounding on Fiona’s door while she’s off in the campaign jet. Again the Tammy scene resonates. “The Insanity Offense” features three scenes where Fiona is helplessly watching someone invade her private space. Only there’s an obvious danger to the Newell scenes. This guy’s so emotionally broken up over Fiona that he can’t even speak to her the first few times he tries. And now he’s outside her house for an hour, pounding on the door like the world’s worst production of A Streetcar Named Desire. He know she’s flying somewhere, and he still asks her to let him in (another example of delusion, even if it’s only because he’s seeing red right now). “My therapist said I need to confront my demons,” he tells her, and I’m trying to decide if it’s an accusation or just a turn of phrase to call the diabolical Fiona Wallice a demon. The neighbors call the cops on him, chasing him away for now, but he all but promises to return while twirling his mustache. If it’s not clear, Schwimmer is, uh, convincing. I’m crawling out of my skin with anticipation. It’s insane how dark a nonstop laugh riot can get.

Stray observations:

  • Last week I was wrong. Now there are two episodes left. Showtime ordered an extra episode this season, and I could not be more grateful.
  • However, the last two episodes will première in a new timeslot, one a day and a half-hour earlier. See you on Sunday, Sept. 2!
  • It’s not strictly relevant but, in an article about Prince Harry’s naked photos (I read it for the article, of course), I came across a line I had to bring up here: “Royal aides have struggled to get a grip on the situation as many of the 25 people invited to party in Harry’s suite were strangers.” Awkward. and Web Therapy are about the only shows on TV centrally interested in the subject of the viral spread of (what would once be considered) private data. And lo and behold “The Insanity Offense” has time for a whole makeshift sex-tape subplot.
  • I miss Selma Blair already. “That is so besides the point.”
  • “You’re kidding or lying? I’m getting a clear picture of you now.” Trenchant criticism—and not just for Tammy—courtesy of Fiona Wallice.
  • Selfish but understandable advice from Fiona to her mother: “This is an accident. This is not murder. The only crime you’re guilty of is drug-dealing. Somehow it could become related, so you need to keep quiet.”
  • Jerome has such a healthy relationship with Fiona. “Now more than ever I know that I want to be a father, and Hayley and I are talking about having even more, like multiples…” “Oh, it’s finished, alright, good, get me coffee please.”
  • Fiona has a code. “No, I said that I wasn’t recording, but that was a lie. I have to record all my sessions, especially the ones with celebrities, because I need it for insurance… I’m an ethical person. I only lie for good reasons.”