Great timing, Web Therapy. The party’s in full swing. Everyone’s talking about Carrie’s pink Manolos. Passionate award-watchers are chewing everyone’s ears off about the Emmy nominations for Amy Jellicoe (Enlightened) and Olivia Pope (Scandal). Orange Is The New Black is the buzziest show in a month. James Gandolfini’s passing even inspired some writers to wonder why there isn’t a Toni Soprano. In this lull between Mad Men and Breaking Bad, the female antihero is the talk of the town. Dr. Fiona Wallice may not have been invited, but what better time to crash?
The premise of the show is that Lisa Kudrow’s supernaturally self-centered, corner-cutting therapist dispenses advice to people in three-minute Skype sessions, the better not to have to listen to her patients drone on and on or to be in the company of other human beings or to have to actually work for a living. But by season three, she isn’t really practicing therapy so much. She tried riding her husband’s political coat-tails, but he ran off with his male campaign manager. Fiona was also having an affair, at least emotionally—well, at least financially—with Alan Cumming’s magnate Austen, but he wound up impregnating the old secretary Gina at Fiona’s former place of employment, at which Fiona was a whistle-blower (two roads diverged in a yellow wood and Fiona took the one less traveled by Amy Jellicoe). Meanwhile her mother Putsy enlisted her assistant Jerome in a ripoff venture called Net Therapy. Fiona basically winds up with nothing.
Not that you want Fiona to succeed, exactly. She’s monstrously passive-aggressive, and she genuinely cares only about herself. But she’s also very funny to watch working her way up, and she’s surprisingly sharp in her analysis if she can pay attention long enough. Make her too powerless, and Fiona becomes an underdog. Make her too powerful, and she gets unfunny. There’s tension when she’s evenly matched—even if she doesn’t know it, as when she squares off with Gina, who always lands on all fours—and your rooting interests are up in the air. Fiona’s an evil dictator, but would the mad queen Putsy be any better on the Iron Throne?
Fiona is a bit of a drain on society, but the way people kick her in the season three première, “Relax, Reboot, Revenge,” excites your sense of justice. Megan Mullally’s musical composer Franny decides Fiona’s an evil bitch just by looking at her. She may be right, but she has no evidence for her case. She has to put in the time to come to that conclusion (and more Mullally time is always welcome, especially after this opening volley). Otherwise she’s just as hateful.
The more complicated case is Dan Bucatinsky’s Jerome, who is doing intakes at Net Therapy, ostentatiously answering the phones while he’s chatting with Fiona, and taking a call from Google which is interested in Net Therapy to the tune of seven figures. Jerome’s a wily bird. He starts as a doormat with an odd sense of loyalty to Fiona (Stockholm syndrome) and now he’s here. “We’re all gonna be rich,” he tells Fiona. “Well, we all,” gesturing to his side of the chat window. He’s still just as blissfully selective about what he allows himself to hear, but he’s awfully condescending to Fiona, not that she hasn’t earned it. But Fiona doesn’t have much in her life except a toxic minor celebrity. Last we saw, Fiona was trying to wriggle out of a one-night stand to go back home to her empty life, and now Jerome’s all putting on his serious, sad face and saying, “I hear you,” despite not listening to a thing she’s saying. He even claims Web Therapy is something that was just in the zeitgeist. Few situations are black and white on Web Therapy, but Fiona absolutely deserves credit for that horrible, profitable idea. Am I really rooting for Fiona against Jerome? Not only that, I’m marveling at how Web Therapy turns every conversation into a battle.
The next scene, a call with Austen, later joined by Gina, slowly turns up the heat for Fiona. First he’s marrying Gina so his child can inherit his fortune and company, but then he’s buying Fiona a penthouse. Then he’s going to divorce her as soon as baby Angus is born. Then Fiona herself talks Gina into never sleeping with Austen again starting now, and finally she talks her into a prenup that will net her just $75,000 and come with a lot of strings. At what point does Fiona go from powerless to powerful? It’s all still potential—how is she going to know if Austen and Gina keep having sex or what the details of the prenup will be—but Fiona seems to be conniving her way back into some power. She’s manipulating a sort-of friend so she can be a kept woman to her husband.
But Web Therapy isn’t about winners and losers. “It’s a little more complicated than that,” says Steve Carell’s fling. “Well, I don’t see it that way,” says Fiona. Really this is a show about self-discovery. You want Fiona and her chat victims to grow as people, and they’ve come close, but those realizations are always undermined by pride and sloth and greed. In the meantime, everyone else keeps failing upward while Fiona falls down. Does that seem right to you?
- Carell’s scene is a slow start, by design, but I loved the exchange about verbing. “Words are interchangable,” he says. “They really aren’t.”
- First Fiona-ism of the season: “That’s impressive, but unfortunately I don’t really care.”
- Jerome tells Fiona, “Your husband running off with the campaign manager, that could not have felt good.” “No, that was fine with me.” Funny, but pointed. She refuses to accept other people’s evaluations of her life, even though she sums up other people’s lives all the time.
- Gina: “I hate living in Scotchland. I can’t understand what anyone is saying.”
- Franny’s schoolyard song for the beginning of the Fiona! musical:
Fiona, Fiona, why are you so fat?
Fiona, Fiona, no 12-year-old should look like that,
She’s fat but not the cuddly kind,
She’s got the personality of a porcupine,
Fiona, Fiona, why are you so fat? (She’s fat!)
Fiona, Fiona, why are you so fat? (Really fat!)