Nicknames, says the self-deluded shrink played by Lisa Kudrow in Showtime’s “Web Therapy,” are nice icebreakers.
Which is her way of explaining why she asked a romantic rival, “What do you think, fatty?”
Making a largely successful jump from roughly 10-minute Web episodes to half-hour cable installments, “Web Therapy” is Kudrow’s mostly improvised tour de force about a self-taught therapist conducting three-minute sessions via webcam. The video chats between Kudrow’s Fiona Wallice, her patients and occasionally her family members appear on our TVs as computer-screen windows.
That means Kudrow, who has parlayed her “Friends” success in ways far more interesting than her old co-stars, gets plenty of face-time.
And wonderfully so. Her quicksilver shifts of expression mark each petty triumph and subsequent deflation as Fiona browbeats patients, manipulates her romantically detached husband (Victor Garber) and, in an Episode 3 standout, withers from a cruelly dismissive mother (a marvelous Lily Tomlin).
Created by Kudrow and her longtime collaborators -- director Don Roos and actor/writer Dan Bucatinsky -- “Web Therapy” fleshes out the shorter version with loose, ongoing storylines. Some might say drags out: The narrative gains don’t always compensate for the improv lulls.
The main arc of the four episodes available for review focuses on Fiona’s attempts to finance her “new treatment modality.” She wants money from her old employers, an investment firm she left after allegedly seducing a married boss. She denies the allegation while conceding, “I guess ‘Please lock the door behind you’ could be interpreted in a myriad of ways.’”
Recurring cast members Tim Bagley, Jennifer Elise Cox, Maulik Pancholy and Bucatinsky keep pace with Kudrow, but “Web Therapy” really takes off when big-name guests like Tomlin and Jane Lynch show up to spar. The same was true for the Web version. Track down the segments with Meryl Streep and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to see how good Showtime’s “Web Therapy” might yet be.
“Web Therapy” airs tonight on Showtime at 11 p.m. New York time. Rating: ***1/2
As HBO’s “Entourage” begins its eighth and final season, a rehabbed Vincent Chase, the Hollywood actor at the center of the show, is off cocaine, his pretty face unmarked by past debauches. Turning his attention to a fellow, if bustier, 12-stepper, he flirts, “Sober is sexy.”
Nothing -- no illicit substance, failed love or lunatic director -- could threaten or broaden the charmed lives of “Entourage” for long. No wonder the unchanging series and its smug band of bros feel so stale. The comedy-drama about Vince (Adrian Grenier, unconvincing as an A-lister) and the three Queens pals that give the show its title coasts along on its own facile charms.
Created by Doug Ellin and based loosely on the early career of actor Mark Wahlberg (an executive producer), the first couple seasons of “Entourage” titillated with the promise of an insider’s peek behind the Hollywood curtain. That Grenier’s Wahlberg stand-in lacked the depth of an underwear ad was only the show’s first problem.
Nothing sticks on “Entourage,” no emotional stakes are claimed or characters developed. After all these years, I’m still not sure whether Vince is supposed to be a talented actor or merely a fetching one.
Jeremy Piven’s deliriously hypercharged agent Ari Gold gave the show its early, edgy momentum, but even he seems tired now, mooning over an estranged wife in the three Season 8 episodes available for review.
As the show returns, Vince emerges from rehab with a movie idea (trapped miners) that manager Eric (a bland Kevin Connolly), goofy stepbrother Drama (Kevin Dillon) and Turtle (the gang’s Ringo, likably played by Jerry Ferrara) know is a dog. But they can’t tell Vince the truth lest he fall off the wagon.
So they throw him a party with fake booze and hot sober chicks recruited from A.A. meetings. That passes for comedy on “Entourage” these days.
Guest star Andrew Dice Clay has some amusing moments, even if these celeb cameos feel as worn-out as “Entourage” itself.
“Entourage” airs July 24 on HBO at 10:30 p.m. New York time. Rating: **
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)