Lisa Kudrow: Head Case


By Ari Karpel

Television is made by committees -- a committee of writers and a committee of executives. Web Therapy has a committee of just three: Kudrow and her cocreators, Bucatinsky and Roos. Kudrow and Bucatinsky, who was also an executive producer of The Comeback, formed a production company after Friends wrapped. She met the two men on the set of Roos's 1998 film, The Opposite of Sex. She's had roles in most of his movies since, including 2005's Happy Endings and 2001's All Over the Guy, which Bucatinsky starred in and wrote. The trio also produces NBC's Who Do You Think You Are?, a celebreality series in which stars like Sarah Jessica Parker and Susan Sarandon have explored their family lineage on camera. (It's now in preproduction for its third season.)

'As a director, I'm used to just saying any note is horrible and any person who gives me a note is a horrible person, but this is trickier,' says Roos, who takes cues from his husband and one of his closest friends while shooting Web Therapy. 'We all work and live together, essentially.'

Web Therapy's original three-minute webisodes had Fiona counseling various patients, including characters played by Alan Cumming and Jane Lynch. In Showtime's expanded, half-hour version, the original sessions are linked by new scenes of Fiona with her closeted husband, Kip (played by Victor Garber), and her detached mother, Pussy Hodge (Lily Tomlin). 'She's completely dismissive of Fiona and clearly doesn't like her very much,' says Kudrow, giggling. 'So you get a glimpse into Fiona's life. You didn't realize how delusional she actually was. What can you do if your own mother doesn't like you?'

In a later episode of the original Web series, Fiona meets her match in Camilla Bowner, an aversion therapist played by a deliciously sexed-up Meryl Streep, who is working to turn Fiona's husband into an 'ex-gay.' She informs Fiona that Kip has not responded well to the treatment. In fact, he was more turned on by a photo of David Hasselhoff than by one of his wife naked. Still, Camilla vows to 'take the 'homo' out of sexuality.'

Though the series has moved to cable, it maintains most of its Web-ish qualities. Kudrow and her cohorts resisted adding an extra camera; everything is still shown from the point of view of Fiona's webcam. And there's still not much of a script. The writers outline the scenes, building a loose plan that includes a bit of information that one character doesn't want the other to have. Then the first character lets it slip.

'The funniest stuff happens when someone misspeaks and you go to town on that for a while,' says Kudrow. 'Improvising is just making whatever the other person says make sense in the world you're in.'

These are skills she learned while studying with the Groundlings, the legendary Los Angeles comedy troupe she joined after abandoning her path to a Ph.D. in biology. 'It was weird!' Kudrow says. 'I had a plan, I was doing headache research with my father, I was going to get published, get into a great program, but I was compelled to do comedy. I don't know how else to explain it.'

Tags: Television