Thursday, December 30, 2010

Not Phoebe, But Fiona (Wallice, That Is)

Obviously, as of late this has become almost entirely a film/Oscar-devoted blog, but as it moves forward, I'm going to work to make it more well-rounded, with reviews of film, TV, theater, and other modalities. Speaking of modalities... have you heard? Fiona Wallice has her own modality of psychiatry. It's called Web Therapy.

"Hi, I'm Fiona Wallice, and this is Web Therapy!"
I've bever been a big fan of "webisodes" or web series, simply because I feel the experience of television is meant to be enjoyed on a, you know, television. I can hardly stand YouTube clips if they're any longer than two minutes and aren't GloZell or The Second City Network. (No, I would not like to see a clip of that Asian man singing Whitney Houston on the Asian version of America's Got Talent, thank you.) But if there's one thing that college teaches you with regard to television, it's that the internet (specifically Hulu) is your best friend.

At the recommendation of Nathaniel Rogers at The Film Experience (who, if after my multiple references you still have not checked out, you must take the time to read), I made an appointment with Lisa Kudrow's three-year old web series Web Therapy. I had heard tell of the project before but I was never interested enough to check it out. How wrong I was not to be watching all this time.

Kudrow, who has long been miscast as a minimal talent in my mind due to her work on what has never been known to be my favorite sitcom, Friends (sue me, I never enjoyed the antics of the rent-controlled twenty- and thirty-somethings who didn't know what the hell they wanted out of life but sure loved to whine about it), is a wonder and a dark comedy revelation as the innovative therapist Dr. Fiona Wallice who cares far more about herself than she does her patients. But far from being bad at her job, Fiona is actually a masterful therapist: in one case, she actually diagnoses her patients' intimacy problems in half a minute without even breaking a sweat.

Fiona: "This is an issue of intellectual property, which I own."
Jerome: "You, you own it?"
Instead of worrying too much about her patients' problems, Fiona prefers to work to further her own cause: the new modality of therapy she's invented, titled, appropriately enough, "Web Therapy." Instead of the traditional, in-person, 50-minute therapy session, Fiona has found that a 3-minute session over iChat is a far more effective modality, because so much of a typical 50-minute session is just aimless wandering. As she puts it, the 3-minute time limit is like a "gun to your head" that forces patients to divulge all the pertinent information quickly.

While Fiona is actually incredibly competent, her sessions often go awry when her own interests become more important than those of the patient. This is most often found in season one, when Fiona's main goal was to get more money from her investors and further the spread of her special modality. But the patients are all well-cast, with each face familiar to most who watch television with differing size of the celebrities (Courtney Cox is the best among the big names, while Julie Claire as a long-running character is the biggest of the smaller names) and Kudrow's improvised interactions with them always ringing true.

Season one isn't the strongest of the show, but it introduces the concept well and has some great series (the Jerome/Hayley series and the initial Richard series, featuring her great catchphrase, "I've muted you"). Season two is even better, with the story arc turning to Fiona's husband, Kip Wallice, and his alleged homosexuality. Each patient is a great addition to the show and the narrative arc really hits its stride. Season three, the most recent season, is more of a typical episodic tale than the other, more series-focused seasons, and it's disappointing to see the show become more about Fiona's life and the people surrounding her (most of the patients were repeats, except those who weren't patients at all and had another connection to Fiona), but the comedy remained sharp and the twists interesting. I hope the show can save itself from Extras-style derailment (the BBC sitcom, a work of art in its first season, eventually lost itself and was merely a shade at the point of its finale) and bring the storyline back in a new, funny way that hits those season two creative peaks.

Fiona: "No, I don't have any children."
Camilla: "Oh! Not even one?"
As a special treat to fans, though, Kudrow managed to get Therapy fan Meryl Streep on for a three-episode arc as Camilla Bowner, the...well, I shouldn't give away her role, as it's far too spoiler-prone. Suffice it to say that Streep, not exactly well-known for her improvisational skills, does great work here, if a little stilted at times. Still, she's Meryl Streep--how could she be anything but great?

Web Therapy can be watched online for free at any time at Lexus Studio, as well as selectively on Hulu and for purchase on iTunes. Episodes range from 3 to 15 minutes, and it's easy to get through series in one sitting. If you're a Lisa Kudrow fan or just a fan of great dark comedy, Web Therapy just might be the modality for you.

I've attached the video for the first episode below: check it out to see if it's to your liking.

Web Therapy 
Season 1: A-
Season 2: A
Season 3: B+
The Camilla Bowner miniseries: B+


Anonymous said...

"Streep, not exactly well-known for her improvisational skills . . . ."

Streep is actually highly regarded by actors and directors for her ability to improvise. Dustin Hoffman said that 99% of Meryl's work is spontaneous. Mike Nichols said that she gives him something different in every take.

If you're interested, take a look at Meryl's first scenes in "Prairie Home Companion," and note how she riffs off Lily Tomlin's hilarious monologue about their family being brought to shame because their sister was arrested for shoplifting a 59-cent glazed donut.

The scenes with Tomlin are a mini master class in improvisation. And I guarantee that they will raise your endorphin levels.

Kevin said...

Anonymous, I actually had forgotten about A Prairie Home Companion, which I'm embarrassed about considering how much I like that movie.

However, past that (which I will admit is quite masterful), the other improvisations you're speaking of are more minor than what Web Therapy is, which is working completely without a script. Streep is far better known for her dramatic acting, her character development, her chameleon ability, etc. than for her comedic improvisational skills.

Karen said...

I watched the episode with Rashida Jones and funny stuff!!!