When life seems to present more problems than positivity, one-to-one therapy can provide people with a constructive way to deal with whatever issues trouble them – but only if they commit to working on making their lives better. Yet when an otherwise rock-steady psychiatrist tries to counsel an outrageously self-absorbed reality TV queen/seven time divorcee in the new comedy series Therapy With Pami, interpersonal therapy becomes a hilarious clash between doctor and patient.
Consisting of sixteen quick yet heavily improvised episodes directed by Lyndsi LaRose, Therapy With Pami co-stars Kaitlin Huwe (The Mindy Project, Workaholics, Animal Kingdom) as the obnoxious title character and Stephanie Erb (Freaks and Geeks, Ray Donovan, Starship Troopers, The Ring), as her no-nonsense shrink Dr. L, who tries gamely to help Pami rebuild her life through a “sliding-scale” therapy program. However, as Dr. L finds out to her astonishment, Pami may be the most complicated client she’s ever attempted to counsel.
Huwe and Erb’s longtime friendship, plus the diverse comedic influences they found in shows like The Bob Newhart Show, Portlandia and the Christopher Guest mockumentary classic Best In Show, helped inform the style of humor seen in each episode of Therapy With Pami. In creating the show, however, Huwe and Erb were motivated by an overarching desire to create a showcase for their talents without sitting idly by for opportunity to knock.
“(Actor/writer/producer) Issa Rae’s (HBO series) Insecure was a guiding light for me, and made me feel okay about putting the series out on the internet,” Huwe recalls. “We thought, why are we waiting for someone to give us an interesting and funny? Let’s just make it ourselves.”
Though Therapy With Pami debuted its first season on YouTube on January 29th, the series’ general concept and its characters had already been road-tested by Huwe and Erb in front of audiences both live and virtual.
Huwe first created and developed her character over 10 years ago while studying with the famed Groundlings comedy troupe, but when she and Erb ended up co-starring in a play together, Huwe gave Erb a first look at the misguided influencer that now headlines the title of their present collaboration.
“Pami tends to come out when there are lots of mirrors and bright lights around,” comments Huwe. “Stephanie started filming Pami and asking her one question a night, before each show. One day, Stephanie posted one of our silly videos and our social media just blew up. Everyone loved it. After the play closed, we really missed each other, and making silly videos. We decided to place Pami in therapy, because she really needed it.”
Having grown up in Northern California during her teen years, Huwe got a weekly look at people like Pami on a popular MTV reality series. “When I was in high school in the San Francisco Bay Area, I would watch The Hills with my brothers and wonder what living in L.A. would be like,” Huwe says. “Would I need to get a spray tan and dye my hair bleach blonde to book acting work?”
The airheaded personality Pami exhibits in each episode of Therapy With Pami represents the stereotypical superficiality that non-Los Angelenos often associate with the city’s upscale set, and some of the so-called “celebrities” it exports to the public at large. In portraying Pami, Huwe gave her character some noticeable traits that were familiar to both herself and audiences.
“I’ve drawn from a lot of Hollywood reality stars, and a few people I know personally, to compile Pami,” explains Huwe. “You can probably see a bit of (American Pie actor Jennifer Coolidge) in there, and some of the (Real Housewives of Beverly Hills). I stole Paula Abdul’s way of clapping, too! I always laughed at the way she would applaud the singers on the early seasons of American Idol. I’d think, does she realize her hands are as stiff as a board, and she’s not making much a sound while clapping? What’s the point?”
Contrast Huwe’s ditzy character with the compassionate yet concerned Dr. L, who Erb says is an amalgamation of the many therapist characters she’s played in past projects and the real life psychologists she and Huwe have confided in.
“My character is the straight man…sort of,” Erb replies. “(She’s) intelligent, thoughtful, on point, but she has met her match in Pami and it is seeing the cracks being created in both Dr. L and Pami that we find funny.”
The entertaining push-and-pull between Pami and Dr. L in Therapy With Pami illustrates how even those who offer help need it themselves. “We believe therapy can do some good and Dr. L really wants to help, but therapists have their own issues which can be great fodder for comedy (Bob Newhart knew this),” Erb adds. “So although it looks like we are delving into Pami’s mind, what we really wanted to do was to put two completely different women in a room and see where they would go, (and) how they would help each other…or not.”
While the tropes associated with Huwe and Erb’s respective characters have either been convincingly spoofed or mind-numbingly stereotyped by others, the co-creators of Therapy With Pami added personal depth and realism to the clashing personalities they present in each episode.
“We wanted our characters to be opposites, instead of two peas in a pod,” Huwe says. “This way, Pami and Dr. L come from totally different worlds, but have something to learn from each other. My focus on Pami was to make her multi-dimensional, so that you could feel that there is a person underneath all the lip fillers.”
“I think my goal was about the same,” adds Erb. “Therapists are not superhuman. They have to focus on another person all day. They elevate the art of listening as best they can, but the pitfalls of their job are many. Dr. L champions Pami, but also is completely at sea with her. It is that dynamic that creates the misdirect of comedy and allows us all to laugh with and at Pami and Dr. L’s relationship.”
Not everyone faces the “first world” problems Pami often talks about in her therapy sessions, or even the emotional frustration of being a therapist who attempts to provide guidance for a stuck-up celebrity as Dr. L does in Therapy With Pami. Yet through both characters, the series takes an unflinching look at the same struggles that average people seek professional help to cope with.
“What I’m most proud of is the depth the series goes into,” says Huwe of Therapy With Pami. “We tackle really difficult topics like eating disorders, trauma responses, drug addiction in a really comical way. As a culture, we are just starting to understand what mental health actually is, and how to live more holistic, embodied, and intentional lives. I love that we are adding to the conversation in a comedic way.”
With our society facing enormous challenges, and with partisan politics separating the once-close bonds between families and friends, Huwe and Erb believe that shows like Therapy With Pami can serve as a necessary break from the stress and uncertainty of life in today’s world.
“It’s escapism but also something I think many folks can relate to — even if they piddle around on social media and are amazed at the odd people they meet. The world is full of different types – and although some are a bit scary these days, all are human, and perhaps even suffering a bit,” says Erb. “I myself need a lot of laughs these days. We would love to find a way to explore this show for further seasons, branching out into Pami and Dr. L’s lives, loves and adventures. It’s just too much fun to do.”
Of course, Huwe notes, taking care of yourself helps as much as laughter does. “This may sound cliche, but I also really want to encourage people to look inside and check in with themselves more. Therapy and healing work are great ways to understand yourself better, and get to the root of what motivates your actions. After my meditation practice, I set an intention for how I want to show up that day. I often take a moment to dream about what our world would be like if everyone was able to walk on this earth with more peace, love, and awareness. I think it would be a pretty beautiful place.”
(NOTE: The series will be closed-captioned on Facebook.)