Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 8, 2012)
Lisa Kudrow returns to TV via Showtime’s Web Therapy. The show came into existence as an improvised Internet series; the Showtime versions added extra footage to fill them out to half-hour length.
With this Season One DVD release of Therapy, we get the series’ first 10 episodes. We’ll view them in the order broadcast. The episode synopses come straight from the DVD packaging.
Click to Start: “Fiona Wallice (Kudrow) develops a new brand of therapy for the Internet: three-minute sessions called Web Therapy. To generate interest in her brand she contacts an old employer with whom she’s had a dicey past and takes on a client who has a highly promotable problem.”
Therapy offers an unusual concept for a TV series due to its origins. The original Internet version used short episodes, so packaging them together into attempts at coherent programs may be a challenge. Also, the episodes were largely improvised, and that made them even more dicey.
It’ll be interesting to see how the season develops, as “Click” becomes only sporadically entertaining. Actually, “sporadically” may be unfair, as it implies that the show is spottier than it is, but it does seem inconsistent. Still, it mixes the original footage with the added material to create a fairly well-integrated piece and shows promise, so I look forward to the next show.
Desperate Measures: “Fiona hopes to exploit the sexual problems of her client Jerome (Dan Bucatinsky) to impress her former employer and potential investor. Meanwhile, the frustrations in her marriage lead her to flirt with several of the men she encounters.”
Two episodes in and I’m finding myself unenthused by the series. Like the first show, “Measures” has some funny moments, but it does seem padded; I get the impression the concept might work better in smaller bites as originally presented online. Still, even though I’m a bit disappointed so far, there’s enough potential here to keep me with it.
Shrink Rap: “After her business proposal is rejected by her mother, Fiona encounters another obstacle: Ted Mitchell (Bob Balaban), who’s been hired by the Lachmann Brothers to evaluate Fiona’s abilities – and gets more than he bargains for.”
Therapy begins to rebound with “Rap”, largely due to its guest cast. Balaban does nicely, and the introduction of Lily Tomlin as Fiona’s cold, controlling mother brings a good charge to the series. Add to that Jennifer Elise Cox’s delightfully slutty and dippy Gina and I’m starting to feel more optimistic about the series.
Public Relations: “Fiona blackmails her new client, marketing executive Claire Dudek (Jane Lynch), in order to garner her expert promotion skills for Web Therapy. Then fate hands her another client with a job tailor-made for promotion exploration.”
The series jumps up quite a bit with this strong episode, largely due to the appearance of Lynch. While she threatens over-exposure these days, she’s still awfully good, and her manic turn as Dudek provides great amusement. A few other elements add zest to the show and make it the best to date.
Shrinking and Growing: “Business is booming for reasons unconnected to Fiona’s expertise, but she’s not complaining until she gets a new client with a personal connection to the Wallices.”
The series’ hot streak continues with the pretty good “Shrinking”. While not quite as strong as “Relations”, it still delivers more than a few amusing moments and shows a series starting to get into a groove.
We’ve Got a Secret: “Fiona’s marriage crumbles when she discovers her husband’s (Victor Garber) hidden life. Meanwhile, her mother’s (Lily Tomlin) secret past threatens Fiona’s business plan.”
With “Secret”, the series goes more expository than usual. Much of the time the plot synopses aren’t that important, as the shows are fairly self-contained, but that changes here. This doesn’t work totally well, as the emphasis on character and story feels a bit forced. Still, we get some interesting twists, so it offers a pretty good episode.
Exposed!: “Fiona gets her house in order by hiring a new employee and joining forces with her husband to expose the imposter in the family nest.”
“Exposed!” follows the same path as “Secret”, so it functions on about a similar level. Actually, it’s not quite as expository, but it confronts a lot of related material. It does give us a “stoned” Lily Tomlin, though, which is worth the price of admission.
Psychic Analysis: “Fiona gets a new client: an Internet psychic who has lost her powers. Can Fiona find them?”
To preserve the fun, I won’t reveal the identity of the actor who plays the psychic, but let’s just say she’s someone who worked with Kudrow for years. That connection might make her casting feel like a gimmick, but I like it and think it’s a treat to see them together again. Add to that an increasingly nutty turn from Lily Tomlin and this episode works quite well.
Whistle While You Work: “Fiona’s principal investor, Robert Lachmann (Steven Weber), is out of business yet Fiona still manages to make him pay.”
While a decent episode, “Whistle” loses some points because it focuses so heavily on Weber’s character. We hardly see anyone else here, and that narrow concentration makes the show a little spotty. It’s still reasonably enjoyable, but it’s not one of the year’s better programs.
Strange Bedfellows: “Fiona hits it off personally and professionally with a new client, media mogul Austen Clarke (Alan Cumming), until her marriage to Kip suddenly becomes much more attractive.”
Season One concludes in a decent manner here, though not with quite the bang I’d like. Cumming’s character dominates, and the episode is more narrative-driven than usual. As I’ve seen in prior shows, the ones that focus on the overall arc tend to be less amusing, as the series works better with programs that better mix the continuing character development with the one-offs. We find a moderately enjoyable piece here but not one of the year’s better episodes.