Web Therapy

When Lisa Kudrow first looked at the camera, smiled her patronizing smile and said, “Hi, I’m…” I swear I thought she was gonna say “Regina Phalange.” It’s always an adjustment to accept an actor we’ve watched for a long time as one character, as another. And this Fiona Wallace character has the air of Phoebe Buffay putting on her Regina alter ego. In other words, she’s not exactly natural. But that’s not the idea. This pilot lets us know immediately what tone it’s going to take.

We see the desktop of Fiona’s computer as she gets to work conveying the show’s premise. She is a therapist (legitimate?) treating people via the web in three-minute sessions. The pilot is actually seven minutes long which, when we’ve been prepared for three, feels a bit long. The funny thing about media made for the web is we demand brevity.

Visually, it’s super simple, and it’s really just one joke. Fiona is treating a nerdy man named Richard. They greet each other with “it’s so nice to see you,” etc. even though it’s the first session, so we’re prepared for a history. It slowly comes out that they’ve had a relationship, possibly romantic. Each has his/her own perception of past events though, and both are a little nuts, so we’re not sure whose version of reality to buy.

Based on this first episode, the premise seems thin for an ongoing show, but somehow it’s in its third season. I haven’t watched to find out, but hopefully a season arc emerges, keeping the viewer coming back. Perhaps we haven’t seen the last of Richard; but how much sexual tension can you build showing two characters who aren’t even in the same room? Web shows tend to figure these things out as they go.

Friends

How have I not written about this before? I practically have it memorized. But let’s be honest , the first season (or 2) of Friends was pretty bad. But clearly it resonated way, way back in 1994 despite all those atrocious hairstyles and the need to shove each character into a stereotyped package. (Ross is a nerd, Rachel is spoiled, Phoebe’s a flake, Joey is a womanizer, etc.) It took until season 4 to round it out to “married a lesbian, left a man at the altar, fell in love with a gay ice dancer, threw a girl’s wooden leg in a fire, lives in a box.” 

Eventually, each Friend become a well-rounded human being who we watched grow over a decade, but it was like the writers didn’t give us viewers credit for having the patience to get to know them. Who knows, maybe we wouldn’t have.

This pilot is so pilot-y. We are bombarded with back story, character quirks, and strained jokes. Everything is over the top: the hairstyles, the coffee cups, Joey’s accent. On the off chance that you haven’t seen it, the plot is that Ross (David Schwimmer) has just split from his wife, just as Monica’s (Courteney Cox) old high school friend Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) leaves her husband-to-be at the altar and runs off to Manhattan to get away from her suffocating suburban existence. Ross has had a thing for Rachel since puberty, and now the possibility of a relationship finally exists.

One thing we can observe from the pilot of Friends is that, although it’s purported to be an ensemble show, it’s really about Ross and Rachel. Always was, always will be. In this opening episode the other four are basically just comic relief. The jokes were pretty bad, too. Even Chandler is unfunny, for Chandler (Matthew Perry). The only part that makes me laugh out loud is when Rachel is on the phone to her father. She is all disheveled, still in her wedding dress, pleading with him for understanding. To paraphrase, she describes how everyone has always told her she’s a shoe and today she’s realized she’s a hat. There’s a pause, then: “No I don’t want you to buy me a hat. It’s a metaphor, Daddy!” So although she’s an ingénue, she’s wacky, and a solid comic actress (who gets funnier each season). You may have heard the story about how she originally auditioned to play Monica.

If for some reason you haven’t seen this, just watch one of the 500 channels that carry the show in syndication and you’re bound to catch it.