We got to interview Lisa Kudrow on the telephone for TV House Calls Week on Hulu. We got excited about it. We made a motion not unlike this gif. We’re printing the whole thing because wouldn’t you?
With its instant gratification take on the Internet Age, Web Therapy returned for a fifth web season of former Friends star Lisa Kudrow as opportunistic therapist Fiona Wallice. Promising quick fixes to her clients, played by the likes of Matt LeBlanc and Chelsea Handler, with whom she meets over iChat, Fiona exploits her patients as quickly as she surmises how she can benefit from them. Hulu recently had the chance to speak with Lisa and her producing partner Dan Bucatinsky (Scandal) about what we can expect from this season, and how they go about making the show.
Hulu: Hi Dan! Hi Lisa! Can you please tell us what the show is about for those who haven’t yet seen it?
Lisa Kudrow: The show is about a self-serving person who decides to exploit the lack of rules on the Internet to conduct therapy and use her clients to help herself to anything she can.
Hulu: And it’s in its fifth season, correct?
Dan Bucatinsky: It’s in its fifth web season, yes.
Hulu: How do you think it plays differently on Showtime versus the web.
Dan: The way that we’ve always structured the show as a web show is that we have characters who are sort of these ridiculous individuals who for whatever reason will call a therapist who’s only conducting for three minutes and usually it becomes this sort of tension between what they want to get from her and what Fiona Wallice figures out she can get from them. And on the web you can watch them in the individual pieces that the characters play out and each little mini-story wraps itself up in three sessions of that character. So I think in the ways that a lot of people look to the Internet to get shorter bites of certainly comedy content, our web series version of Web Therapy I believe satisfies that small bite kind of entertainment appetite. And I think that for Showtime, which is traditionally playing longer form, we repurposed and create a longer arc and try to tell larger stories that can play out over the course of a season of ten episodes, as well as in 28 minutes.
Lisa: Luckily when we first were doing the web series, we couldn’t help it as writers. We ended up making character arcs and story arcs. When we had to repurpose it for the half-hour format, it really was not a big leap. A narrative was already there. It’s just in the half-hour version, it’s more apparent. But each individual webisode does stand alone. There’s a beginning, middle and end to each one of those and that’s good. Knowing that there was a half hour allowed us to make other webisodes that included Fiona’s personal life more.
Hulu: How improvisational do you get with the characters? With Matt LeBlanc or Chelsea Handler, did you give them what their character’s problem was or was that something that was discovered organically?
Lisa: It’s a little of both. We start off with an outline for the story with a brief description of the character and whoever’s doing it always adds more to the characters. They come into it with more. And through the improvisation we end up with more information that can turn that character and the story in another direction and that’s what’s really fun about it.
Dan: And depending on the actor, we’ll often meet with them prior to even shooting. Different actors work differently, and some just want to show up on that day, and obviously all the dialogue is improvised, but we’ve had actors who’ve wanted to meet first and we will sit and collaborate about who they are, what makes them that way.
Lisa: We’ll have a conference call. With Meg Ryan, we had… She’s a hoarder, here’s the story. She said it’s really fun if she’s a nice hoarder. You know, very happy and doesn’t see herself as a hoarder but an archivist. That’s a lot.
Dan: And Lily Tomlin, the first time she came in we had a half day…
Lisa: …meeting with her…
Dan: It was so much fun. She shows up with lot of ideas…
Lisa: Wigs and props…
Dan: Makeup ideas. Just the level depends on the person, and sometimes they’ll take the character in a different direction than we had originally intended.
Lisa: Lily certainly did.
Dan: Yeah. It’s fun to do it that way.
Hulu: How are you recruiting guest stars?
Lisa: Asking. Just asking.
Dan: Sometimes we’ll hear from them. You get an email or you run into someone at a party and they say, “I’ve always wanted to do that show,” and I’m like, “OK, I’m going to take you up on that.”
Lisa: “I’m going to get in touch with you.”
Dan: And we do.
Hulu: Lisa, the character is so specific. Is there someone on whom you based it?
Lisa: No. There’s not a person I based her on. There’s someone that I have in mind that I think Fiona sees herself as and this woman is very elegant and articulate. Very smart, sexy. She’s like the perfect woman. And I am sort of drawing on her because that’s how Fiona sees herself and then I know as it’s filtered through me it’s going to come out ridiculous.
Hulu: Is there anyone in pop culture right now whom you’d like Fiona to analyze?
Lisa: Well, yeah, we had, but then as you play it out you’re just kind of making fun of someone and that’s not nice. We’d rather make fun of the horrible characters we’ve made up. We’re not that mean.
Hulu: Who are your dream guest stars?
Dan: We’ve had a lot of them on the show actually.
Lisa: I don’t know where you go after Meryl Streep.
Dan: We’ve had Billy Crystal.
Lisa: And Steve Carell. That was a dream.
Hulu: What about the two last remaining “Friends?” [Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry]
Lisa: Oh, yeah!
Dan: Wouldn’t that be fun?
Lisa: That would be really fun. How about that will be really fun.
Dan: I want Kerry Washington to do it.
Lisa: Yes, that would be really fun.
Dan: She’s really funny.
Hulu: With all the advances in technology, why do you think that we still find the old-fashioned ways to mess our lives up? That seems to be a recurring theme throughout the series.
Dan: If you’re insecure or conniving or don’t really know how to deal with your spouse, regardless of how much technology you have, I feel that those sexual compulsions, problems, OCDs…
Lisa: I think, we’re all still human, so however advanced technology gets it’s just another way to express your pathology.
Dan: But then you get deluded into thinking that you can talk to someone for only three minutes and possibly get some help and usually that’s not the case.
Lisa: That’s the thing. What was appealing to us about this idea or what made us laugh is that those people who figured they could just check things off their list really quickly, take care of something quickly, like “Yeah, I’m in therapy,” and it’s online, so it’s not actual therapy. It really isn’t. People really just want to do things really fast and get it done, and they don’t have the patience to put in the work that’s actually required for something. And it’s the same for the patients as it is for Fiona. She didn’t really want to mess around with, oh, going to graduate school and getting years and years of a Masters and then a PhD.
Dan: How tedious! I met a writer this week who was talking about how he has trouble writing long form and when I asked him what he considered to be long form, he said he tweets. He considers 140 characters in Twitter the extent of his creative expression. He was finding it harder to write beyond the length of a tweet. I think that kind of thing is starting to impact people. When your form of expression, you only get 140 characters to say what’s on your mind, I think it’s going to start to impact our ability to communicate longer.
Hulu: You two are such a wonderful collaborative team. What’s your secret to having such a good partnership in Hollywood?
Lisa: Mutual respect is the foundation for working together successfully.
Dan: We generally like each other and we genuinely make each other laugh.
Lisa: Of course, for Web Therapy, there’s a third partner, Don Roos.
Dan: My spouse, for good or for bad.
Lisa: That’s Dan’s spouse. He’s a brilliant writer, brilliant director, and Web Therapy wouldn’t be what it is without him.
Dan: We all “yin-yang” each other very well because Don has incredible strengths as a director and a writer and he knows story and character. Lisa knows this character really well and is really, really specific about how to be funny and how to craft these… not just her character, but some of the others. And I have a mind for the overall picture and the business model. Each of us sort of let each other do our job in a way that compliments each other instead of stepping on each other’s feet.
Lisa: We also have a really great editor named David Codron. That’s important.
Dan: He’s been with us since day one and he’s been Don’s editor on all of his films since The Opposite of Sex so he’s a huge part of the creative process.
Hulu: What can we look out from you guys coming up?
Lisa: Who Do You Think You Are? returns on July third. That’s going to be on TLC.
Dan: New season of Scandal for me is starting in the Fall.
Lisa: We’re working on other things, but we can’t say yet. We’re really happy that Web Therapy is on Hulu because I love Hulu. I watch a million things on Hulu.
Hulu: What are your favorite things on Hulu?
Lisa: I like watching British series on Hulu that we just don’t get here.
Hulu: It was great to talk to you guys, and we’re really excited to have Web Therapy on Hulu.
Dan: Us, too!
All five seasons of Web Therapy are available on Hulu, by the way.