The TV Room: Web Therapy Season 4, by David Bax
What’s the deal with Web Therapy, anyway? That’s a question that has likely occurred to the myriad people who have vaguely heard of but never actually watched this show, Lisa Kudrow’s other premium cable series. But even those like me who have been watching Web Therapy since it was a web series are still left largely without a clue as to what the point of the whole thing is.
Kudrow is obviously not the only former Friends star to go on to other successes but there’s a case to be made that she is the most interesting. Maybe it’s fitting that oddball Phoebe would prove to have not only the most skewed sense of humor but also the boldness to explore it. Even before co-creating The Comeback, as singular and vital a work of art as television has seen in this young century, she was popping up in things like the winningly goofy/smart Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion and in a handful of below-the-radar indie comedies like Clockwatchers and Hacks.
Web Therapy reunited Kudrow with Don Roos, who had directed her in The Opposite of Sex and Happy Endings. These collaborations had been among her most fruitful and so expectations were justifiably high. The star power didn’t hurt, either. In the web series alone, Kudrow and Roos managed to attract the talents of Victor Garber, Alan Cumming, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Molly Shannon and Meryl freaking Streep.
Since the move up to Showtime, the guest stars have continued to impress with drop-ins from the likes of Meg Ryan, Steve Carrell and Megan Mullaly. In just this most recent season, we saw Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Hamm, Christina Applegate and Calista Flockhart.
The star power may have continued to grow but nothing else about the show has. When first we met Kudrow’s Fiona Wallice, she was newly separated from her previous job at a Lehmann Brothers-type financial firm that she had helped bring down via whistleblowing, borne not of moral outrage but of the end of an affair with her boss. Not content with being the rich housewife of a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, she decides to start a new venture, an internet “modality” based on the idea that she can do more to help people in three minute video chats than a therapist can do in an hour. This despite her lack of a therapist’s license or even the slightest bit of empathy for anyone. In fact, her megalomania would seem to be an asset, as she is convinced of her own mental and emotional superiority over everyone.
In comedy terms, this is an excellent basis for a character. Her pigheaded insistence on her own abilities and righteousness is so impervious to blatant facts and logic that she blindly wills herself into success. The joke, and Kudrow’s commitment to Fiona’s psychopathy, worked in the small, digital chunks of the web series.
Now, though, we have a series comprised of half hour installments that has existed for four seasons. And Fiona is exactly the same. There’s enough distance from her old job that it doesn’t really factor in anymore but the character refuses to change; or, more accurately, her creators refuse to change her. Every year, she gets herself into trouble by being an icy and clueless sociopath and then everything works out just in time to more or less reset for the next season.
This year, Fiona found all of her dangerously irresponsible sessions made public by an NSA leaker with an apparently thorough lack of discrimination as far as what characterizes useful information. The leaks also led to her longtime assistant’s arrest for attempted murder and, indirectly, to the revelation that she is not the biological child of the woman she has begrudgingly called her mother all her life.
Yet, in the final seconds, a series of preposterous revelations renders even these should-be life-changers moot. Fiona ends the season smiling and, as the episode’s title declares, fulfilled. One could charitably accept this as an allegory for how America’s privileged class routinely avoids consequences. A more sober reading, though, is that Kudrow’s obvious talents and creative energy are being expended elsewhere.
Perhaps the deal with Web Therapy is simply that Kudrow and Roos are deliberately maintaining the status quo in order to ensure a steady paycheck. Now, as to why everyone in the show’s universe interacts solely via Skype, who knows what the deal is with that.