Wednesday 8th August 2018

Online video therapy seems like a good idea. No waiting for underfunded NHS services, cheaper if you are paying, less inhibiting. You don’t have to leave the house, or even your own couch; all you have to do is open your laptop, take off the bit of tape you put over the webcam to stop the government or the CIA spying on you, and you are away. And how does that make you feel?

You might not choose Richard Pitt (Stephen Mangan) as your web therapist. He is new to it; we meet him on his first day, working from home. The last job, a more traditional face-to-face therapy practice, went bust. He is heavily in debt and his much-more-sorted wife Karen doesn’t know. She (Katherine Parkinson) has the sort of job that involves wearing a suit and flying to Zurich.

The house is full of Richard and Karen’s children and their friends, teenagers doing the things teenagers do – involving their screens, their insecurities and their libidos. Richard’s hopeless best mate, Pete (Karl Theobald), hasn’t yet readied the room Richard is going to be working in. In fact, Pete is still asleep in there. And the battery on the laptop is running low; it will go to sleep soon unless it is plugged in. In typical fashion, Richard can’t find the charger.

The opening sequence of Hang Ups is filmed on (or feels as if it is filmed on) the webcam of Richard’s laptop. It adds to the chaos of the scene, but it is also appropriate to the subject matter. So much of our lives is now lived through a screen, it is now a major source of hang-ups, as well as a place to talk about them.

Some of the beta male stuff is quite familiar, even if Stephen Mangan does do beta male very well. You know the moment he promises Karen he won’t forget their son’s career meeting at school that, of course, he is going to forget it. Actually, he is not such a bad therapist, just a rather distracted one. Certainly, he is a better one than the totally self-interested one Lisa Kudrow played in her show Web Therapy, on which Hang Ups is based.

I know, a British remake of an American show – it’s usually the other way around. In the case of Hang Ups and Web Therapy, “remake” is overdoing it; it’s more like loosely based on. Therapy itself is an endless seam of comedy coltan.

What it does share with Phoebe from Friends’ show is improvisation in the online sessions themselves, from a starry cast of patients. And that’s where Hang Ups really hits the sweet spot. In the first episode, Sarah Hadland is a no-nonsense, G&T quaffing, jolly-hockey sticks kind of woman. She is bulletproof on the outside but her life was defined (and ruined) by an incident in the showers at boarding school involving pubic hair. Or rather a lack of it, in her case. And Lolly Adefope is, like, a really annoying, like, millennial whose goal in life is to get a million Instagram followers and she thinks therapy might help her get there. Monica Dolan looks as if she might end up stalking Richard. To look forward to in future episodes: David Tennant and Jessica Hynes. If sometimes their issues are a little overblown, these brilliant improvised performances bring such a spontaneous authenticity that it’s easy to forget you are not spying on a real session. It is also often hilarious. From Mangan, too, who co-wrote, along with his brother-in-law Robert Delamere (his wife Louise Delamere produced). Richard, of course, has at least as many issues as his patients, mainly stemming from his overbearing father (Charles Dance).

Richard gets his own online video therapy from ... Richard E Grant, who suggests a neat technique for dealing with the overbearing father. The next time he speaks to his father (on Facetime, WhatsApp, whatever), “have your left hand on the off button, and the other hand on your genitals, and as soon as you feel that you’re being threatened either way, squeeze one or switch off the other.”

Interesting, I think, to anyone with a father. I’ll be trying it out, as best as I can, given the circumstances. The circumstances being that my own father is dead, but he does make regular appearances in my dreams ... Anyway, this might not be the place; I’ll find someone to talk to about it, online. 

The Guardian

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