This ‘Tired’ Premise Could Make a Great TV Show

Web Therapy, Head Case, Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, In Treatment, Necessary Roughness. Those are just some of the scripted shows about therapy. I don’t think a single one is on-air anymore, and there are more (also not on the air), but I’m on a deadline. The upshot is: clearly we don’t NEED another show about therapy. Not because those shows weren’t good, but because the frame of “troubled protagonist seeking therapy” or, more commonly, “troubled therapist seeking de-facto protagonists,” is well trodden territory. Then came Dan Pfau’s Therapy, and I realize now that I may be up for another roll in the hay with old faithful. The thing is: nothing about Therapy is any different from many of the shows that came before it. Dan’s performance is just uniquely strong, and his couch-guests are fresh. Maybe there’s a reason we keep seeing these formats, and maybe there’s no reason Dan shouldn’t keep trying to get this one off the ground.

Tell me a little bit about your comedy background. 

Dan: I’m actually more of an actor, but I had this idea for a show. I moved out here [to LA] and was doing small roles in sitcoms, like Hot in Cleveland-type stuff. I wanted to be doing bigger roles. I knew people in UCB and comedians from New York and thought “I have a great idea to have someone new on the couch each week and then have it also be a little narrative. Make it kind of like High Maintenance.” I was available and the only one around and populated it with the people who I knew would be around, about five people, who could come by and shoot for a couple of hours. Alison Pill came by and we probably did all of that in less than a day. Adam [Lustick] came and we just kind of improvised. We have a basic script like in Curb Your Enthusiasm, and then just kind of improvise around that. Like we knew we had to hit the beat that Adam is a weaker guy and is being bullied at work and I give some advice to him and then he goes nuts. But he took that and ran with it. Adam really went nuts. That was our first meeting ever and he just like took it to the max and I was like, “I love this guy.” I just wanted to make something that was easy to film, but I grew up on Seinfeld and I wanted to see if we could make a show that was a sitcom in a way, where it’s a story but it’s not like The Wire where you need to completely watch each episode or you’ll get lost. Ideally people will watch all the episodes, and they do have a through line, but they’re small things. I wanted it to be a vignette comedy piece, but also have enough of a story that you’re following this guy.

You mention High Maintenance, and one of the things that I love about this that’s a little different from the digital incarnation of that show, is: you see your world a little bit more. You’re baring more than The Guy. Like, the brunch scene is so great. That window into the therapist’s personal world is super fun.

Absolutely. I wanted to play up this idea that in the therapy sessions he seems on top of things and like he’s got his life together, but, then, we see him outside of the sessions and he’s not taking any of the advice he gave out. A big hypocrite. You always hear therapists are the craziest people. Like you see him advocating to “stand up for yourself,” but, then, in his life, we see he doesn’t take any of that advice, really. Or, the episode with Claire where she talks about how her boyfriend isn’t listening to her and then we find out that she and her boyfriend really broke up eight months ago and she’s been with this imaginary boyfriend since then. Then, in my story, I’m seeing someone who actually has a boyfriend, so I’m accidentally cuckolding someone. So it’s kind of related and funny.

What was the impetus for making him not a licensed therapist?

Honestly, I was not in the best time of my life. I had booked a commercial and was living off unemployment – I had just quit a job and was pretty much screwed. It was almost like that scene in Seinfeld where George is like “I like baseball, I could be a sports announcer.” In real life, a lot of people come to me for advice. I think because I am very blunt and don’t sugarcoat things and I thought I should make a TV show out of this instead of actually doing any of it. I guess part of it was, there’s a whole host of jobs out there where it helps to be qualified for them, but you don’t necessarily need to be qualified for them. Look at the president of the United States now. Therapists, you’re essentially paying someone to be your friend. People are coming in with real issues but there are also plenty of people who are stuck in shitty relationships and all the therapist needs to say is “Break up with this person.” If the therapist said that then they’d keep coming back. The not having a license thing came from thinking, “Who would be the type of person who would do something like this without a license?” I thought it would be someone who wants to do anything other than get a real job.

It’s not too far from reality. A lot of therapists do kind of have these bullshit qualifications and then are like “I’m just going to listen to you kvetch for 60 minutes, cool?”

And some charge $200 an hour.

Most do.

I did a very guerrilla ad campaign where I put up a flyer for the therapy in Silver Lake and places near where I live.

Did you get any calls?

Well I didn’t put a phone number, I put the website. But it said “Free Therapy” on it, so it definitely caught a lot of people’s eyes. And you see shit like that all the time. I went to art school and know a lot of people who stopped doing [art] and then went on to doing art therapy or something like that. There’s a whole host of people offering therapy for random things. I figured if someone offered therapy for $30 I’d at least come by and see what it was like; I mean it’s not $100. It’s a good price point.

I’d love to see you try this out in real life. 

I really hope the people who took the website information from the flyers weren’t suffering from any real issues.

They are hanging on by a thin thread, my friend. You’ve crushed them. So what is the next incarnation of this? Would you ever want to take this to TV? 

Well, we did at first try to pitch this to different places but there just wasn’t enough of a following and it was like that catch-22 of “How do you get a following so that you can get a show to get a following?” you know? We might be making four more episodes in the New Year.  I still think there’s so much to be mined out of the therapy setup. In the future I want to get more comedians and do the therapy scenes almost like Dr. Katz style. Claire was a great example of that, it was completely improvised. We had a basic, basic outline. I’ve known Claire for years and knew that we were good on camera and had a good rapport and, really, it was kind of like instead of her doing her standup in front of an audience, she just did it in the therapist’s office to one person and they respond. There are so many people in LA that I want to work with. I don’t want it to be like Parenthood or something like that, but I want a mix between comedians and really talented actors that are underused in LA. I know so many actors that are really really good and not getting enough work. Everyone who has worked on it has had a lot of fun.

What was your budget? 

Really, really small. We shot them spread out in a way. We shot a few episodes over two weeks, but I was literally funding this with unemployment checks I was getting. The entire thing was under $20,000. A good portion of that stuff was spent on post, but I really wanted to make sure it looked good. I wanted to release it and have people be like “Wow, that looks really good and sounds really good.” I wanted it to be as up to par as a TV show as possible. I’m happy with how it turned out.

How has the response been?

Really good. The main press release has been Facebook and Instagram. I’ve created little trailers for the episodes and those have gotten thousands of hits, but I’ve also released the episodes and it seems like not as many people are watching. I’m hoping getting the word out more will help it get more views, not just from my 3-degrees-of-separation-Facebook-world. I’ve already started getting messages from people who I don’t even know, telling me how much they love the show and how they want to keep it going. People are finding it funny. It’s not like a laugh every second, but I do feel like each episode has one or two laugh out loud moments.

It’s smart. 

Thank you. A lot of what is shown has happened to me or to my brother. Like the thing about someone using a nickname for someone that you don’t know, that has really happened to me. I also wanted to show off LA a little bit and get out of the room we’re in for the most of the episodes. My DP has sort of taken this and made it his big project.  He took something and made it look really good. I was the head of everything for the first episode and by the end of the episode I decided I needed other people to help with directing and producing because I couldn’t do it all on my own.

Pilot, “No One Hates Friends”

Episode #2, “The Dresser & The Cellist”

Episode #3, “Ice Cream & LSD”

h/t Matt Visconage for transcribing.

Luke is an executive producer at CollegeHumor and a watcher of many web videos. Send him yours @LKellyClyne.

This ‘Tired’ Premise Could Make a Great TV Show