Fiona Wallice is affected, self-entitled and narcissistic. She is a former businesswoman who stumbled into therapy and then when she found other people's lives too tedious to tolerate, she modified her job into a new "treatment modality," she calls "Web Therapy." Give her three minutes and she'll give you ... something, even if it's just further confusion.
Fiona is the character Lisa Kudrow developed alongside Don Roos and partner Dan Bucatinsky for Web Therapy, an Internet series that bowed on L/Studio in three-minute bursts in 2008, and has now been converted into a cable series for Showtime by combining webisodes and fleshing out previously unseen aspects of Fiona's personal life.
At the show's heart is Kudrow, who spends nary a minute off-screen. Web Therapy (Tuesday, 11/10c, Showtime) finds Kudrow doing that thing that is uniquely hers: Boldly infusing flawed characters with enough nuance to make them utterly human and, to the cringing reactions of many viewers, sympathetic. She did it on the one-season wonder The Comeback and she does it here even more impressively, since the action of Web Therapy is confined mostly to two-way web chats between characters. Through merely dialogue and mannerism, we get a full picture of a hilariously harrowing existence.
We spoke to Kudrow about Web Therapy and its web-to-TV conversion. Of course, we couldn't let her off the line without talking about the dearly departed Comeback and whether Valerie Cherish will bless our lives again.
What was the conversion process of Web Therapy from the Internet to TV like? Was it hard to organize?
Lisa Kudrow: It was a fun challenge. It just took some thought: What do we have? What's our bible that we've established on the Internet? What do we feel like is worth exploring more? What new things do we want to see, like the stuff with Fiona's mother, [played by] Lily Tomlin, and her husband, Kip (Victor Garber). To get more inside her personal life is really a good thing.
It's really interesting that you want to probe more into this character, whom you called a "horrible person" on Jay Leno. Even with The Comeback, it seems like you gravitate to characters that are ...
Kudrow: Horrible people?
Yeah! Or just annoying maybe? Fiona has a decided affect on her voice.
Kudrow: Yeah, she does! But I do know a real person who [has that]. It works better with that person because she actually is elegant and refined and intelligent and sexy and beautiful. But then you filter it through me and it just comes off like, "Well, who are you kidding?" [Laughs]
You don't worry about challenging people with annoying protagonists?
Kudrow: Well ... I'm hoping that it's funny enough. Plus, this started as a web series in just short spurts, so I didn't think we needed to make her too likable, anyway. It's not like it's going to be on at 8 o'clock on one of the big four networks. It's on Showtime for a reason.
The method of storytelling here is fascinating: two people talking ...
Kudrow: And we're still getting a story! And things happen!
Is it challenging to tell a story in such a restrictive way?
Kudrow: Not for the likes of Don Roos. He's a phenomenal writer/storyteller. We're writing these outlines and I think it helps it a lot that it's improvised by people who are just really funny and talented. Their characters are engaging. I think it's a really good combination. The first thing we did was we sat down and looked at each of the client's three [webisode] sessions. We thought, "If we put these together, is that too long and what does it look like?"
Fiona has very little background in therapy, coming from the business world, but did you do any research to prepare for this?
Kudrow: No, we didn't study any therapists. Fiona is all style and no substance, and that's what we wanted to comment on, not therapy at all. If you start off and discredit her as a therapist, we can do anything we want.
When you film this, how close are you to the people you're supposedly speaking with on webcam?
Kudrow: We're on different sets. We used to shoot it in our office, so we'd be in different rooms. It's not a web chat — we have real cameras and there's a prompter that's a monitor. So we're looking at each other in real time and we can hear each other with an earbud. We're listening and talking to each other in real time.
How much of the Web Therapy web show have you worked into the Showtime series? All three seasons?
Kudrow: No, two seasons, and about 50 percent of what's on Showtime that was not on L/STUDIO. We're about to shoot our web Season 4. We'll see how it does on Showtime and we'll see what happens after this. I hope people watch. Now I'm in love with the half-hour version of it.
Dan Bucatinsky was on The Comeback. Maulik Pancholy was, as well. Courteney Cox pops up on Web Therapy. It seems like you latch onto people that you work with and will repeatedly work with them.
Kudrow: Yes, because we don't have a casting director! We just call up people that we know and love and think are really talented and great and that's how we've been casting.
Can we talk about The Comeback?
Kudrow: Sure. I'm always happy to.
Do you think there's a future for Valerie Cherish? Will she ever pop up again?
Kudrow: I think so. I hope so. It's too fun. That was too fun to do. We'll see. [Co-creator] Michael Patrick King and I, whenever we get together for lunch or whatever, it always comes up and we always end up pitching different ideas for what we could do. But he's busy, too. I don't know.
I remember reading an interview in which you said so much was going to happen in Season 2.
Kudrow: We knew what was going to happen. We felt like it could go on forever. There's no end to where we could put her. We could take Valerie to New York City and have her enrolling in some Actors Studio class, or finally getting herself into a play and not really doing the work. Missing the point. You know, look, it was kind of painful when we didn't get picked back up.
As a viewer, it was really unfair to see HBO consistently giving other shows a chance, but not The Comeback.
Kudrow: They used to do that, and I think they do it now again, but we were there just in that moment when they weren't doing what they do. And I've been told by people who will remain anonymous that, "Yeah, we made a mistake," or, "We weren't being HBO in that moment." Sometimes it's the luck of the draw.
Is it any consolation the way that show's cult has lived on?
Kudrow: Huge consolation, yes. We thought we had something special, but now that I look back, there were no Real Housewives yet. It was only the second season of The Amazing Race, for God's sake. It was still new. For us out in Hollywood, it was, "Oh, this has taken over." We already knew they weren't ordering sitcoms. We knew, but the rest of the world didn't know yet what it was going to be. One day, we were working and Michael looked up, gasped and said, "We might be a little too ahead of the curve here. Uh oh." I was like, "Well, we're on HBO, so we'll stay on till we're not too far ahead." Wrong!
I was hoping that when you were on Leno a few weeks ago, there would also be a monkey there to poop on your head.
Kudrow: That's what we loved: you get s--- on and it's a great moment.
Although sometimes when you get s--- on, it's not a great moment, like when your show is canceled after one season.
It seems like you give viewers the benefit of the doubt, or assume they're more intelligent than a lot of people of your stature do.
Kudrow: Contest shows are fun. Everyone can watch that. But I think there are enough people that want to see things with more layers to them, so that you pick up on as much as you want and more later. I think there's room for stuff like that. That was the whole risk with Who Do You Think You Are? [which Kudrow produces] as a network TV show, too. However, there are people who want to watch a historical documentary series. I do give the audience credit.
It's interesting coming from Friends, which was as mass-consumed as possible, that you've progressed to these niche projects.
Kudrow: Well, it is my sense of humor. I didn't do that many studio movies, but independent films I did and those were dark comedies. They were niche-oriented humor-wise. The odds of getting another Friends-like show or movie is really slim, I think, for me. I might as well just say, "Thank you for not making me worry about food or shelter," and know that now I can do these things for people that I know will appreciate them.