Also read Troy Patterson's review of Web Therapy.
In her new Showtime series, Web Therapy (Tuesdays at 11 p.m. ET), Lisa Kudrow plays a terrible therapist named Dr. Fiona Wallice who's more interested in making big bucks off of counseling patients over the Internet and talking about herself than she is in helping her clients. The show—which originated online as a series of web videos sponsored by Lexus—is largely improvised and boasts an impressive cast of co-stars, from Meryl Streep to Jane Lynch.
For viewers who know Kudrow best as the spacey, sweet Phoebe Buffay from Friends, the shameless Dr. Wallice is a departure. But since Kudrow's Romy and Michelle days, she has consistently chosen darker parts. From her perspicacious, canceled-too-soon HBO Show, The Comeback,about a failed actress trying to claw her way back to fame through a reality show, to smaller roles in movies like Easy A, in which she plays a guidance counselor who is a little too friendly with one of her students, Kudrow has proven that she has a comedic range far beyond the dizzy blonde we remember from the '90s.
Ispoke to Kudrow about how she adapted Web Therapy to a television format, her role as executive producer of the NBC documentary series Who Do You Think You Are, in which celebrities explore their family trees, and how reality TV shows like Bethenny Getting Married begat Bridesmaids—because they showed American audiences how to root for unlikable women.
Slate: In its original incarnation, Web Therapy was an online-only series, and it feels specific to the medium. What inspired you to do this series for a Web audience rather than a TV one?
Lisa Kudrow: It is specific to the Internet. The idea struck us as very funny that people, while they're at work, could take three minutes out of their day and say that they did therapy. Cross it off their list. It couldn't possibly be effective therapy, so the idea was that it would work on the Internet because things happen quickly. In 2007, when we first started the series, people seemed to use the Web in short spurts. No one wanted to spend too much time with one task.
Slate: It sounds like an offshoot of the 4-Hour Work Week. You can fit your therapy into three minutes.
Kudrow: Right, like a really bad idea. Not everything should be done quickly. Everyone uses that fallback excuse, "Well I've got ADD." That doesn't mean that's OK. Fight it, you know. Fight against it.
Slate: So what are you doing to expand it into a 30-minute show for television?
Kudrow: What we realized, when we were looking at what we had done, was that there was a narrative that people missed when watching the series in pieces on the Internet. They are connected, stringing one client's sessions together, and over the course of a Web season, there's a story being told.
Slate: Did you shoot any extra material or cut anything from the originals?
Kudrow: We shot extra stuff that were also webisodes. But we're not changing too much. We just wanted to show where [Fiona Wallice] worked, and the people she's trying to get money from as investors, and explore her marriage. We also meet her mother. She's just a horrible person, Fiona. Now we get to know a little bit more about why that is. It's not just random.
Slate: Fiona seems to have a lot in common with your character on The Comeback, Valerie. They're both narcissists who are obsessed with self-promotion. What interests you about this type as a writer and an actress?
Kudrow: They both think they come off a certain way, and we can see right through that. That's definitely true for Fiona. She thinks she's really poised and intelligent—all those wonderful things—and that no one catches how manipulative she is. They don't get that she's horribly judgmental, dismissive, and bullying. She thinks it doesn't matter.
Slate: In choosing these characters, were you consciously trying to move on from Phoebe, who is more lighthearted and certainly not malicious? Or are these just the characters that you were drawn to create?