Web series have an uneven track record making the transition to TV, largely because what works in bite-sized bits via laptop doesn’t necessarily translate into a half-hour format. So it is with “Web Therapy,” a Lisa Kudrow-produced project featuring the former “Friends” star as a strange, patrician therapist championing a “new treatment modality” that consists of three-minute sessions online. While the project had its devotees in its original form, the first four legs of a 10-episode flight feel stilted, claustrophobic and only fitfully amusing as stitched together for Showtime.
In a way, “Therapy” is the flip side of “In Treatment,” trying to mine these one-on-one (or two) exchanges for laughs and absurdity as opposed to drama. Yet while that HBO show mirrored the sensation of a filmed play — offering the audience the best seat in the house — this approach is shackled by the format, which has only three views: Split-screen, or alternating close-ups of Kudrow’s Dr. Fiona Wallice and whoever she’s “treating.”
Not that much therapy actually happens. Instead, Wallice works through her own issues, including an unhappy marriage to an indifferent husband (Victor Garber) and ongoing flirtation with a former co-worker (Tim Bagley). In subsequent installments, she parries with her haughty mother (Lily Tomlin) and tries to counsel a woman with anger-management issues (Jane Lynch).
Mostly, the whole exercise — improvised based on loose outlines credited to Kudrow, co-star Dan Bucatinsky and director Don Roos — plays like celebrity night at the Groundlings, with about that sort of hit-miss ratio.
If you love improv (and I usually don’t), the series will likely feel daring and irreverent. But except perhaps in the hands of Larry David, such material invariably winds up either on a fairly banal level or (in this case) more designed to irritate than genuinely amuse. Indeed, the only real laughs come in the closing-credit outtakes, when Kudrow and company break from their straight-faced sincerity.
To her credit, Kudrow has been more artistically adventurous than her “Friends” castmates, albeit with mixed results. Even Showtime appears a bit mystified in terms of what to do with “Web Therapy” — doubtless happy to have additional star wattage to showcase, but relegating the episodes to 11 p.m. even though the content isn’t particularly risque.
Dr. Wallice describes her truncated speed-date approach to therapy by saying, “It’s like having a gun to your head.”
While one can appreciate the ideal of producing comedy on the cheap, that’s almost what it would take to make me watch a fifth episode.