While some of life’s problems can be solved with a few simple adjustments, the more complicated aspects of our daily existences require extensive help in the form of psychiatry. However, as the new comedy series BILL THE THERAPIST shows, even the doctors who dish out advice to their patients on a frequent basis can sometimes use that same guidance in their own lives.
Created, written, produced and directed by Hugo de Sousa (who also co-stars), and with the first 3 episodes of its 6 episode first season now streaming on its official web site and the new Roku channel ZPTV (see additional links below), BILL THE THERAPIST features Jerry Weil in the title role of a caring, yet emotionally conflicted psychiatrist whose personal problems constantly seem to overshadow his efforts to solve those of his clients.
Among them: Peter (played by de Sousa), whose life is dominated by fears of his eventual demise, Rahne (Kimia Behpoornia, YouTube’s 2KSLAM SHOW), a young adult who can’t achieve the inner self-esteem she desires, and Leonard (played by critically acclaimed comedian/writer/podcaster Tony Hinchcliffe), a guy who never feels content with anyone – or anything, for that matter. In addition, Ann-Marie Lariccia plays Bill’s devoted assistant, Kerri, who tries bravely to put up with her boss’s erratic behavior on the job.
While therapy often serves as a sounding board for people to talk about their problems, and while such chats can help lead the way to resolving those issues, not everyone sees the positive aspects that come with seeing a psychiatrist. For de Sousa, creating BILL THE THERAPIST proved to be a way for him to find humor in a part of life that doesn’t exactly bring chuckles to the average person.
“I have mixed feelings about therapy. Emotional intelligence is a really good asset, but how you use that new found intelligence can be really tricky,” says de Sousa. “Some people get stuck, others flourish. Either way, everyone takes it too seriously, so my goal was just to lighten the mood a little bit.”
BILL THE THERAPIST’s first episode was, at first, intended to be a short film; one which also doubled as a vehicle for de Sousa to exhibit his talents as an actor and filmmaker.
However, once he realized that transforming the project into an episodic comedy would result in greater opportunities to explore multiple characters and issues, de Sousa decided to expand upon the premise introduced in what would eventually become the series’ debut story.
“Making it a web series was just very enticing, (and it was) a big opportunity for me, as writer and director, to try new things and experiment,” de Sousa responds, adding that the time he spent on-set and off proved to be a rewarding crash course in the fundamental aspects of filmmaking.
“I produced, wrote, directed and edited all the episodes. It was a great learning experience for me. In a way, it was my film school,” de Sousa recalls. As production of BILL THE THERAPIST commenced, the actor/filmmaker would get some much needed support from other key crew members. “Finding Benjamin Rutkowski, our cinematographer, was key. He really helped me shape the show and I don’t think I could have done it without him.”
Following an extensive search, de Sousa brought together an impressive and hilarious cast of talent to be part of BILL THE THERAPIST. It all began, of course, when he spotted the man who’d become the series’ title protagonist. “Bill was the easiest one to cast. I found the brilliant Jerry Weil (who plays Bill) at a monologue competition here in L.A.,” remembers de Sousa. “I knew right away he was my guy, so I just offered the role to him a couple of weeks later. Luckily, he said yes.”
In addition to assuming the role of Bill’s first patient, de Sousa cast Lariccia and Behpoornia, a veteran writer/actor/improv performer who’s currently part of the UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) sketch comedy troupe Sugar.
Yet, the most unlikely breakthrough that de Sousa would achieve during the casting process came when Hinchcliffe, whose first live stand-up special ONE SHOT premiered last January on Netflix, signed on to guest star in the series’ third episode.
“I sent the script to his manager, not really expecting any type of response. It really took me by surprise when they finally said yes,” he says. “Funny trivia: he thought he was playing Bill until thirty minutes before the shoot. He also thought he was doing a voice-over. I think that’s why his performance is so brilliant – he just went with it.”
For de Sousa, writing BILL THE THERAPIST means doing whatever it takes to make each script the best it can be. “I wrote most of the episodes in one sitting and I do tiny little re-writes up until the day of the shoot,” he explains. “Feedback is important to me, so I do try to show the script to as many people as possible. The most helpful feedback always comes from people who have nothing to do with this business – they’re just more straightforward.”
When it comes to making sure it all goes according to plan on the set, de Sousa decides to let his cast put their skills to the test in raw, unrehearsed fashion. “The stakes aren’t very high, so I kind of prefer to roll the dice a little bit, and let the actors surprise me on the day,” he adds. “The first takes are always very unpredictable. That’s kind of exciting when not a lot of money is on the line.”
The phrase “laughter is the best medicine” may be an obvious cliche, but it definitely applies in the case of BILL THE THERAPIST.
Thanks to its offbeat, realistic and self-deprecating approach to comedy, and its equally memorable array of characters, it’s almost certain to hit home with many people – including therapists and their patients.
Ultimately, de Sousa hopes that BILL THE THERAPIST will win viewers amid an endless (and growing) menu of entertainment choices.
“It’s a tough period for web series. There’s so much content out there. New TV shows come out every week. The market is saturated and It’s hard to compete,” he says. “Web series do have the advantage of asking very little of the audience. Four minutes goes by really quickly, and if we can give them one laugh during that period, they’ll probably come back. I am looking for that one laugh, and will gladly take just a tiny chuckle.”
NOTE: Regarding closed-captioning/subtitling of BILL THE THERAPIST, de Sousa says: “Maybe (it will be closed-captioned/subtitled) in the future, depending on the success of the show.”
ON THE WEB: http://surrealtherapy.com/