The therapist is in. Just seek her advice at your own risk.
Nearly five years ago, Lisa Kudrow co-created the darkly comic web series Web Therapy, about delusional, borderline incompetent therapist Fiona Wallice, who pioneers a new “modality” of therapy. Of the opinion that traditional 50-minute sessions encourage too much time-wasting rambling, Wallice conducts her sessions in three-minute bursts via webcam. The web series was picked up by Showtime in 2011, and over the course of its first two seasons the likes of Meryl Streep, Rosie O’Donnell, and former Friend Courteney Cox have beamed in for sessions—only to have Fiona circle the conversation around to her own self-serving issues.
Season 3 of Web Therapy premiered last Tuesday—the same night a new season of the celebrity family-tree-tracing docuseries Who Do You Think You Are?, which Kudrow executive-produces, premiered on TLC. Kudrow recently chatted with The Daily Beast—fortunately, we were given more than three minutes—about the new season of Web Therapy, Who Do You Think You Are?, and why the Friends reunion will never happen and she’s perfectly OK with that.
Right now you have Web Therapy, which was a web series, airing on Showtime, and then Who Do You Think You Are?, which was a broadcast series, being saved by TLC, a cable network. It’s proof of how many ways there are to watch TV these days. It’s so different from 10 years ago, when everyone in the world was watching Friends.
Even then I remember executives saying, “Well, we don’t get the audiences like we used to get it. Only 20 million people; M*A*S*H used to get 40 million.” Like, complaining how it’s really dwindling with all the extra channels. But also right after Friends, there was that hideous moment of, “Scripted television? That’s too expensive. Let’s just do a bunch of reality.”
What’s it like to watch Web Therapy grow?
It’s thrilling. It’s really thrilling. Basically, it’s just two people talking. It’s 11-minute scenes where it’s just two people talking. And people are OK with that, which is surprising. Especially with comedies, it’s always “Boom. Boom. Boom.” Just 30-second scenes. The idea these days is that people’s attention spans are shortening, they’re not lengthening. So for us, it’s really great to see that it’s not true.
Courteney Cox already guest-starred on Web Therapy, and this year David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc will be on. Actors play different characters all the time, obviously, but this is a strange situation where you and five other actors played the same characters against each other for 10 years. What’s it like to come back after doing that for so long on Friends and act opposite each other as completely different characters?
I thought it would be a big adjustment, and it wasn’t at all. The only thing that’s there from the past is trust, which is fantastic. I wasn’t expecting that at all, that there would be this level of trust and comfort, because I know who that person is at the other side. With Schwimmer, though, I had a little moment of confusion, I have to say. I was tired, and we were waiting to set up something else. I’m just looking at him on the monitor, and all of a sudden I went, “What does Phoebe say to Ross here? I don’t remember. Oh my God! Oh my God!” Like, I panicked. Then, “Oh, we’re not doing Friends. OK.” It was really momentary but terrifying.
‘I feel really bad saying that it’s not a reunion and there never was. There never was. I promise.’
I’d imagine it’s hard not to break character against these comedy heavyweights. Who has been hardest to keep it together for?
If I’m going to break, I’m going to break. I mean, I try not to. I think with Meryl, I just really disciplined myself. “Don’t ruin it for her. Don’t take her out of it.” But, like, you can’t take her out of it.
You’ve had Meryl Streep on the show. That’s just insane. Do you have other dream guests?
Yeah! Matthew Perry ... Jennifer Aniston … They both said “I would do that.” Like, you would? Yay! They’d be so fun. Really, really fun. They’d be great. And I was just saying that it would be really fun if John Travolta did it. Don’t ask me why. It’s just in my head. He’s so fun, so fearless. He would just go for it, and it would be really fun. So I’ll have to ask.
I’m a twin, and I can’t have a conversation with anyone I know without that coming up. I’d imagine that must be what it’s like with the Friends reunion question—you can’t talk to anyone without it being brought up.
Yes, exactly. Well … except you really do have a twin. There was never ever going to be a Friends reunion. It’s hard to address something that’s been fiction, something that’s been whipped.
Is frustrating to be hounded about it all the time? Or is it flattering that they care so much?
Sure, it’s great that people care so much. And it’s hideous to disappoint them—because they’re really going to be disappointed. But I feel really bad saying that it’s not a reunion and there never was. There never was. I promise.
And we do get to see you guys together, whether it’s Courteney Cox guesting on Go On with Matthew Perry, or Schwimmer doing Web Therapy. To me, that’s more interesting that seeing Ross and Rachel getting old.
With Emma and maybe some other kids, and they have to drive carpool. I know! I agree.
In a way, we are getting Friends reunions all the time. It’s a little baffling that it keeps being harped on.
I guess they just don’t want it to be over. I’m the oldest one of the cast members. I don’t what a 50-year-old Phoebe would be like. I mean, she’s married to Mike now. If they have kids … I don’t know. Kids can change you. I don’t know.
When Arrested Development was revived by Netflix, there were a lot of people crossing their fingers for a revival of The Comeback. Ever a possibility?
[Creator] Michael Patrick King and I, we would love it. We talk about it all the time and figure out what it would be. Aside from the one hurdle of, you know, HBO owns it and we haven’t really asked them. But, you know, set that aside, and it’s kind of daunting to think, “OK, what it would be?” Because the reality stuff, that’s all here. That’s not a story anymore. And then you have all those shows that use the documentary camera. So it’s just figuring out what it would be or what it should be.
So Fiona, Valerie, and Phoebe could not be more different, but there’s this underlying thing about all of them, where they have this warped sense of reality.
Exactly. That’s it. That’s what makes me laugh about people. I really believe there’s no one reality. It’s the people who think they’re doing a good job of fooling other people who share the same reality. No, we don’t. We don’t. Even with Phoebe, the audition piece was this monologue from the pilot, where she’s presenting it as “you know how is … when your mother kills herself and your father’s in prison and you’re living with a homeless albino …” You know? No, no—that’s your reality. That’s not anybody else’s reality. That’s what’s funny to me. That’s what she doesn’t get. She doesn’t understand how she’s coming off to people. So that to me is always funny, when someone doesn’t understand how they’re coming off in the world. And one of my biggest fears, probably, which is why it’s one of my go-to comedy things, to make fun of it and that way I’m on top of it.
Who Do You Think You Are? has a ton of celebs taking part this season. What do you remember from when you were on it digging through your family history?
There was a cousin who we all assumed had died. In 1947, he survived the Holocaust and was trying to pass himself off, the story was, as a Polish sailor and not Jewish, which you can find out the minute you’re changing in front of men. So we never heard from him again and heard he had been killed, because there were Jews being killed after the Holocaust in Poland. So I was headed to Poland to find out how he died, thinking we weren’t going to find out. But he was alive, which was a miracle. And I met him. I met him and his son and his grandson, and his grandson was the translator. I’m still close to the grandson. He passed away this past year. My father and he Skyped. He got to say thank you, because he gave my father’s mother $50, which was an outrageous amount of money in those days, because they were so poor. It’s wild.