“Web Therapy,” which premieres Tuesday on Showtime, in many ways recaptures some of the same manipulative personality disorder that made “The Comeback” so rich. Here, Kudrow plays Fiona Wallice, a counselor who offers disastrously inappropriate talk therapy to her patients via live video Webcam.
With nary a credential to her name or degree on her wall, Fiona, who formerly worked at an investment firm, began accepting clients who came to her with various emotional crises. But she was bored by the standard one-hour session.
“They end up going on and on, about dreams and feelings and memories and past experiences that add up to a whole lot of nothing,” Fiona fumes. “I found the bulk of the help was done in three minutes.”
Thus is born what Fiona confidently markets as a “new treatment modality” — modality being a word she only just Googled. Now she’s a therapist who won’t listen in sessions that are finished in three minutes. Her put-upon husband, Kip (Victor Garber), sits still for a hypothetical trial session, in which he talks to the camera on his laptop and she responds to him via hers: “ [My wife] is needy, sexually,” he tells her.
“In that she’d like to try it out?” Fiona icily replies.
Awkwardness is everything to a show like this, designed to push the improvisational scenarios between Fiona and the unlucky people on the other end of the Skype exchange, until the viewer almost cannot bear to watch. That same awkwardness was what fueled “The Comeback”; both Valerie Cherish and Fiona Wallice exhibit the same resolute, grandiose and yet potentially fragile sense of self.
But while “Web Therapy” is certainly clever and occasionally funny, it lacks both the nerve and verve of “The Comeback.” With Fiona, Kudrow is playing a stupid, despicable person who is ruthless in her need to verbally abuse the people on her computer screen.
Directed by Don Roos (whose films include “The Opposite of Sex” and “Happy Endings”) and co-written by Kudrow, Roos and Dan Bucatinsky, the show is creatively constructed only around Webcam conversations — mostly through Fiona’s counseling sessions, but also in her encounters with other people.
Through these conversations, we learn that Fiona burned bridges at her investment banking job, yet continues a flirtatious affair with a former colleague. We learn that her marriage is a quiet disaster and that nobody really likes her. Everything that happens on “Web Therapy” must happen within the Webcam format, which takes some getting used to.