Dede: God. How does a woman get so bitter?
--The Opposite of Sex (1998)
My own bitter observation: "TV actresses" never get the love they deserve until they make that stealthy transition to the silver screen. Some may never get their due respect; like a Sarah Michelle Gellar - whose physical, comic and crushing turn as Buffy would ascend the cinematic heights of... magic crustaceans and dead Japanese kids baring the grudge of a Hollywood remake. (That was Bitter Observation #2.) For every damning P.S. I Love You, there's still Lisa Kudrow's savory sense of humor underlying all that manufactured bliss - and Hilary Swank being "girly and fun" (no one's buying it Warner Brothers.) Kudrow's characters balance well between TV and film. Either they're so confidently clueless that they couldn't care less, or they're so hyper aware they'll do just about anything to alter their situation. Kudrow's best moments come when placed at that delicate cusp of self awareness. Even her ditsiest selves have dreams wherein they know the formula for glue.
Lisa's sardonic strengths hit so masterfully under the radar and always for maximum effect. There's an understated intellect and biting wit even in her most deluded variations. Cherish is the word I'd use to describe her sublime performance on The Comeback. Valerie Cherish is a divinely humble creation; a washed-up sitcom star making her prestigious (but only to herself) return to the dregs of network TV. She even has her own reality show, but in her strict attempt to avoid any reality, it eventually hits her much like a cupcake shooting a low blow to the stomach. Sweet, painful... satisfying.
Hers is the subtly sweet, knockout punch that will give you "the rare double vomit." Valerie may not have her dignity, but maybe just enough fame to forego that worry for one more TV season -- exactly when this series was canceled (Bitter Observation #3). Behind Kudrow's every gesture is a pointed but understated truth, and it probably helps that Kudrow had a hand in the astute writing. Any attempt by Valerie to hide something becomes her greatest exposure. It's so befitting (and ironic) then that her catchphrase is, "I don't want to SEE that!""A cupcake's never funny the second time. Never."
Likewise her hysterical collaborations with writer/director Don Roos continually tap into that same inner judgment, and translates her talents so well to the big screen. If her characters are now too bitter or jaded to be bound by network standards, at least they get their cinematic happy endings. Like Lucia of The Opposite of Sex, who so desperately wants to meet someone who'll love and shampoo her, but would never utter the word "love" without a shudder down the spine and convulsive snide remark. Or Mamie of Happy Endings whose job at an abortion clinic is more or less therapy for giving away her stepbrother's baby; that bitterness is undercut with some real soul and sympathy. She gives these characters their world-weary backbone.
Web Therapy, Kudrow and Don Roos' latest collaboration, is another painfully bracing comedy about yet another woman on that path of excruciating self-discovery. Meet Fiona Wallace, a therapist bored with anything beyond three-minute sessions, who needs patients who can launch her pitiful online career. The slow burn of the web series is an evolving character comedy of a person so selfish, so disparaging, that her act of observing others becomes all about her own reveal. Secrets and truths are exposed, wounds are opened and salted, and we haven't even gotten to her patients.
Whenever moments are almost too painful to watch, Lisa Kudrow ensures it's Must See TV.
[editors note: Web Therapy is also now available on iTunes]