Worth Watching: Web Therapy

Packaged in small 6 to 10 minute episodes, Web Therapy is the perfect online distraction.  While the individual episodes can be hit and miss in terms of quality, the brevity of each episode and the talent of its star and creator Lisa Kudrow make the show’s less than stellar moments worth bearing.

Known primarily for her award winning role as Phoebe Buffay on the iconic 90s sitcom Friends, Kudrow is given a broader comedic palette to work with as Fiona Wallice, Web Therapy’s wonderfully caustic and manipulative therapist and heroine.

The show is shot almost entirely from the perspective of a web cam interaction between Fiona and her client du jour, while she records the session in the hopes of gaining financial backing for her “new modality” of psychotherapy.  This “new modality” consists of 3 minute online sessions instead of the traditional 50 minute face to face session; thereby removing what Fiona deems the unnecessary excess of “feelings, dreams and past experiences” from the therapeutic process.

Kudrow’s wonderfully self-absorbed and vacuous Fiona, complete with MBA from Wharton—and no psychology background whatsoever—is solely concerned with promoting her “new modality” at any cost, and has only tertiary interest in the well-being of her clients.    At its best, the show explores the wonderfully twisted and damaged relationships Fiona has with anyone willing to set foot within her bizarre self-constructed universe.

Indeed, though the guest stars are numerous and often esteemed (Meryl Streep to name but one), this is clearly Kudrow’s show—and she runs with it.  And therein lies the primary problem with Web Therapy, the show is ostensibly improvised and the lack of improvisational skill amongst some of the guest stars (including Streep herself) is evident.  Too often the client’s side is of an episode is awkward and forced and oftentimes even Kudrow’s considerable comedic gifts can’t save the funny.

The show began as an online series in 2008 and was picked up and extended to a standard length episodic format by Showtime in 2011, but it really works best online.  The technical limitations of Web Therapy (it’s much more discomforting watching web cam interaction on a television screen for a half an hour than it is online for ten minutes) and improvisational component lend themselves much better to short quick bursts online than a sustained drown-out more traditional narrative.

Whatever it’s flaws, Web Therapy makes for engaging and contagious viewing.  It’s hard to watch just one episode, as Kudrow is consistently hilarious and Fiona Wallice is easily one of the strongest, most fully realized characters going in comedy today be it on the web, television, or film.

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