One lesson for web video to take away from legendary media scholar Marshall McLuhan‘s “the medium is the message” philosophy: Yes, it matters if the video player you use to distribute your web series sucks. And that’s why I never reviewed Web Therapy, the Lisa Kudrow starrer produced by Lexus, when it debuted last fall — because Lexus hosted the series exclusively on its LStudio site, and to be blunt, its site was at the time badly designed, its player extremely problematic and totally unembeddable.
To be fair, lstudio.com has since been redesigned and is much more usable now. But the second season of the series premiered this week on a multitude of sites, including YouTube, iTunes and Hulu, players which are honestly much superior. Thus, today I find myself watching and enjoying the series for the first time. Because once you can actually watch the show, it’s a delight.
Kudrow plays Fiona Wallace, a therapist with a doctorate in passive-aggression, who’s more interested in building out the brand of her new iChat-enabled three-minute therapy practice than actually helping any of her patients, whose neuroses seem heightened, not quelled, by her treatment. The first season’s cast included TV’s Jane Lynch and Rashida Jones, but the second promises Alan Cumming, Victor Garber, Courtney Cox-Arquette, and Steven Weber — accumulated, as Kudrow admits on the Hulu blog, by calling in favors.
The improvised episodes are strung together in threes, with Fiona’s relationship with a patient evolving over the course of three sessions. Episodes aren’t as tight as they could be, especially in the first season, with installments stretching to seven or eight minutes — but when the show runs shorter, it’s near perfection. Fiona’s approach to patient therapy involves a lot of talking and not a whole lot of listening, at one point saying, “Let’s not get bogged down in feelings and stuff…”
In a behind-the-scenes clip on Hulu, director Don Roos (who’s a phenomenal nab from the world of feature films) explains that the second season will have a greater emphasis on plot than the first. The first three-parter of the season, Gossip Girl, shows that’s definitely the case, as we learn more than we’d probably ever hoped to about Fiona’s relationship with her husband — which is undeniably on the edge.
Because she’s so closely identified with the role of Phoebe on Friends, it’s hard to remember that Kudrow is insanely good at crafting unique characters, especially in an improv environment. But if you didn’t see her in her post-Friends indie work (including one or two of Roos’ films) or the HBO series The Comeback, here’s the reminder you need. It’s easy to characterize Fiona as a shrew, someone who takes pleasure out of tearing other people down. But the sad truth is that her self-delusion comes from a real and believable place, the layers of her anal-retentive nature masking an inner terror. Sure, she’s intensely unlikeable, but as a character portrait, it’s irresistible in short bursts, making Web Therapy a perfect fit for web distribution — especially when you can actually watch it.