If insanity is indeed doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then most TV characters are probably certifiable. Their tendency to succumb to the same mistakes and flaws week after week has extended the run of many shows, but the creators of Web Therapy frequently cross the line between repetition for the sake of laughs and presenting audiences with characters who genuinely have a few screws loose. Fiona Wallice (Lisa Kudrow), whose therapeutic “modality” of three-minute online psych sessions provides the structure of the series, responds to each obstacle in her path with the same misguided strategies, never learning from prior failures. And that’s the point.
This serves as license for the actors, all of whom improvise their dialogue, to bludgeon the viewer with a relentless assault on good sense, taste, and intelligence. The improvisation taps into something almost unconscious in the viewer, and without knowing quite why, we experience something like catharsis, which no deliberate effort could possibly replicate.
The series attempts a serialized long-form story arc involving Fiona’s crumbling marriage to her gay husband, Kip (Victor Garber), who’s now running for Congress as a Republican, but the broad strokes of the narrative are beside the point. The story serves mainly as a jumping-off point for some scattered jabs at the wide target of American conservatism, and when the jokes hit their mark, they more than compensate for the show’s lack of consistency. When Kip’s campaign manager (Michael McDonald) tells Fiona he’s a “personal survivor of abortion,” we’re not just hearing an actor deliver a punchline; the fact that this absurdity is concocted on the spot heightens its humor and provides a glimpse into the comedian’s stream-of-conscious creative process.
Season two continues to feature a slew of guest stars, including Rosie O’Donnell and Meryl Streep, who lends the series more artistic credibility than it needs or knows what to do with. Some of these actors meet the odd demands of the series better than others, but it’s the series regulars who really shine. Kudrow and Lily Tomlin, who plays Fiona’s mother, Putsy, have an indefinable chemistry that allows Kudrow to, of all things, play the “straight man” against Tomlin’s hijinks. Dan Bucatinsky, who plays Fiona’s patient and virtual slave, Jerome, somehow manages to give his character’s servile instincts psychological credibility.
As in season one, however, the richest subject of Web Therapy‘s satire is Fiona herself, a caricature of humanity’s persevering self-delusion. When Fiona decides to meet the requirements of formal accreditation for her therapy business, she reluctantly agrees to be psychoanalyzed by her sister, Shevaun (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Shevaun insists on analyzing her during a more “traditional” 50-minute hour rather than a three-minute hour, but she still fails to crack Fiona’s “wall of ice.” Every horrible memory she recounts, from Fiona being spurned by her parents during their divorce to her being beaten by her father with a shoe, has no effect on the woman who claims to have never had “an unhappy moment.” Shevaun is the one who eventually crumbles, admitting that Fiona is “unflappable” before finally destroying her sister’s ego with a slight remark about the unflattering color she has on. Yet before long, Fiona is “fixing herself,” rebuilding that performance of patronizing superiority which is alternately tragic and heroic.
The characters on Web Therapy never change, and whatever crises occur beyond the scope of their webcams have only the most oblique impact on their online personas. It’s a common myth that the Internet allows us to experiment with different versions of ourselves; we’re more public, but equally permanent, holding ourselves together by a thread. Whether or not the creators of Web Therapy intended the series as anything resembling a cohesive statement, they seem to have made one thing clear: We’re all just a little bit insane.