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In my mind, The Bob Newhart Show, Dr. Katz, and Head Case represent the spectrum of psychiatrist-based comedy. Sure, I’m excluding some outliers here, like Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, but this is an introductory paragraph. The latest entry into this sub-genre is the webisode-turned-Showtime sitcom Web Therapy. Pull up a big psychiatrist couch for this one. You may want to sleep through some of it.
Web Therapy was created by Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky, focusing on Kudrow, affecting an uncomfortable accent, as Fiona Wallace, a self-consumed, untrained therapist who starts her own business model providing therapy via web cameras rather than in person, in three-minute increments rather than the normal fifty-minute sessions. The show revolves around this gimmick, eschewing traditional camera techniques to allow viewers into Fiona and her associates’ lives through full-on P.O.V. shots, as seen on the computer screen. It took longer than I would have liked to get used to it. Watching people speak directly to the camera for the bulk of the episodes was off-putting. Outside of news and sports programs, I apparently don’t like looking directly into people’s faces for long periods of time. But that’s my problem.
That problem that isn’t mine is that this format spits in the face of the “show, not tell” plot formula. Beyond small bits of physical comedy from the show’s myriad guest stars, there is only dialogue to follow. If this were just a radio show, about 90% of the material would be just as effective. I can imagine, because I didn’t watch them, that the shortened webisodes had less of a problem in this area. As it is, it takes a few episodes for the plot threads to develop and gain traction. I viewed the pilot on Showtime when it aired and felt no need to keep watching. Now that I’ve blown through the two-disc set in two days, I am less critical of the storylines as a whole, which are fairly interesting. But most series will generally pack this first season’s plots, and much more, into far fewer episodes. The improvisational approach, which is almost necessary for a show like this, drags many scenes out when less would be preferable. Also, it annoyingly separates scenes with dialogue over a black screen, in a needless callback to Frasier, another psychiatry gem.
Let’s see if I can sum the major arc up in one sentence. After leaving former employer, the Lachman Brothers financial group, under suspicious circumstances, Fiona manipulates everyone in her life, from her unaffectionate husband Kip (Victor Garber) to the Lachmans’ ditzy assistant Gina (Jennifer Elise Cox), to promote and find investors for her company, Web Therapy; her patients are also victims of Fiona’s exploitative ways. Because her marriage and her relationship with her mother Putsy (Lily Tomlin) are largely loveless, she deludes her way through life, assuming simple conversations with IT worker Kamal (Maulik Pancholy) are veiled sexual advances and carrying on a faux relationship with infatuated former co-worker Richard (Tim Bagley).
This heightened self-importance bleeds into her sessions, and it’s unclear whether she’s actually helping anyone other than herself. Case in point: Jerome (Bucatinsky), who is at first treated for a possible incestuous relationship with his girlfriend Hayley (Rashida Jones), and then seems to become a bumbling robot for Fiona’s pandering instructions. Her disbelief in therapy is fairly obvious, and the show becomes truly enjoyable when someone puts her in her place, which happens with almost everyone I haven’t talked about yet. There’s Ted (Bob Balaban), the evaluator. There’s Claire (Jane Lynch), the no-bullshit competitor. Bryn (Patricia Guggenheim) and Justin (Drew Sherman), the tricksters. Robin (Julie Claire), the attempted adulterer. And Serena (Courtney Cox), the psychic. The only people seemingly on her side are former employer Robert Lachman (Steven Weber) and the wealthy Austen Clarke (Alan Cummings), both of whom Fiona attempts to extract money from. There are some nice plot twists as the season wears on which need not be spoiled here.
Web Therapy works really well in certain areas while failing greatly in others, and is best viewed in rapid succession, either on DVD or during one of Showtime’s marathons. The show maximizes a concept that doesn’t necessarily need to exist in the first place, but at least everyone on that side of the screen looks like they’re having fun.
This DVD set follows the series in not living up to its potential. Each episode gets a commentary track from Kudrow, Bucatinsky, and producer Don Roos. Especially for comedy series, this is usually a wonderful supplement to the on-screen material. Here, though, the trio spends way too much time watching in silence before laughing at their own jokes, and not enough time giving significant insight to anything we’re watching. I guess that happens when the production process consists of people sitting in front of a static camera. Very few are worth listening to.
Oddly enough, there is a 30-minute Outtakes feature that is separated by character. It's another laughless addition, as nearly every single flub is due to an actor losing track of their improvised dialogue. And some of these already showed up in the episodes’ credit sequences, which is a tired trend in sitcoms, but made worse here by the sheer lack of humor in the outtakes.
Rarely is a 10-minute “Behind the Scenes” feature the pick of the litter, but it’s to be expected here. The basic gist of everything is explained by the core members of the cast and crew, and that’s about it. But its brevity is to its advantage, and makes Web Therapy seem like a much funnier show.
Despite all my negativity, I still recommend this show to anyone willing to give it time. It has a strong fan base and there are many people out there who will find it worlds more enjoyable than I did. For the low DVD price, it’s a better bargain than giving Lucy Van Pelt a nickel.
Length: 266 min.
Rated: Not rated
Distributor: Entertainment One
Release Date: 6/19/12
Starring: Lisa Kudrow, Dan Bucatinsky, Victor Garber, Jennifer Elise Cox, Lily Tomlin
Directed by: Don Roos, Dan Bucatinsky
Produced by: Dan Bucatinsky, Diane Charles, Lisa Kudrow, Ron Qurashi
Written by: Lisa Kudrow, Don Roos, Dan Bucatinsky
Visit the Web Therapy Official Website
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