'Web Therapy,' 'Who Do You Think You Are?': Dan Bucatinsky on 'Friends' reunion, Kelly Clarkson's roots

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Image Credit: Anna Donovan/FilmMagic

After scoring an Emmy nomination last Thursday for his guest-starring role on Scandal, Dan Bucatinsky has another big day ahead as two series he produced premiere tonight. Along with longtime producing partner Lisa Kudrow, Bucatinsky has overseen projects ranging from cult classic TV series The Comeback to the romantic comedy Picking Up and Dropping Off. He took a moment to talk with EW about the new seasons of the genealogical journey Who Do You Think You Are? as well as the improvised comedy Web Therapy.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off congratulations. Not only on your Emmy nomination, though. Tonight’s a huge night for you and Lisa — one that’s been 10 years in the making.
DAN BUCATINSKY: Yeah, it’s sort of crept up on us. We looked at each other a few months ago, and I was like, “Wait a minute, 2003 was not just a couple years ago.” [Laughs] The odds of us, after 10 years, being in the situation we’re in — I just never imagined. Having these two shows premiere on the same night feels like we’re on a really nice little ride.

Both series are known for having star-studded line-ups. For starters, the premiere of Web Therapy features Steve Carell as a character named Jackson who brings a little love (and a little lust) into Fiona’s life. What made Steve a good fit for the role and a good foil for Lisa?
Well, that’s just it. Comedically, he’s a genius. He’s also really charming, really charismatic, really good-looking, and we thought, “What better actor who has all of those qualities” — not just as a person but plays them so effortlessly — “to play this sort of anonymous tryst she thinks she’s having in Laguna?” I can’t give too much away, but as the season unfolds, we’ll start to learn more and more about him and his feelings for her, how he knows her, and what he expects from her. As usual, there are obviously surprises. Jackson’s more than he’s cracked up to be, and Steve’s the perfect actor to play the guy who’s more than he’s cracked up to be.

Speaking of which, Showtime’s website says there’s “something far more powerful — and threatening” about Jackson than Fiona realizes initially. What can you say about that?
You’ll see that, even in the first episode, she thinks she’s had this anonymous romance in Laguna, and he suddenly figures out her name and who she is. We’ll soon find out that he’s somebody who has been involved with people she knows. We like to inject characters from Fiona’s world that also have connections to other people in her life. So let’s just say that he winds up having a connection to other people unbeknownst to her, and it becomes a situation that’s far bigger than she can handle for a while. But not for long. Fiona Wallice usually finds her way out of any situation — and in a way that puts her on top.

The show has a lot to say about the complexities of online relationships. I hear there’s a sort of Catfish-y plotline coming up that Glee‘s Darren Criss and Parenthood‘s Mae Whitman pitched to you.
Almost a year ago, they approached us with this idea of playing these long-distance lovers who had been together for two years but had never actually met. As usual, the fun is in finding the most misguided, self-serving advice¬†Fiona can muster — but also the way she can most benefit from somebody else’s misfortune or fortune.

These two actors are coming from relatively family-friend TV shows, so working within your series must have given them some room to play around. Were there any too-hot-for-TV outtakes?
Granted, we shoot on the weekends. Early on a Saturday morning, no one’s that racy. But there is something very liberating … about getting to play characters you normally wouldn’t get to play. The fact that these guys are young, horny twentysomethings who are used to having sex with each other every time they’re [online], we have a lot of fun with Fiona witnessing their rituals. It’s kind of enticing for Fiona and more motivation than ever to try to prolong their coming together physically.

Speaking of playing against type, your fellow Emmy nominee Matt LeBlanc continues to fill up the Friends reunion bucket list as a gambling addict …
You know, people keep asking us if there’s ever going to be Friends reunion, and I always answer, “We’re having a¬†Friends reunion — season after season on Web Therapy.” [Laughs]

All you need is Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry.
I think we’re going to make it happen. If the show continues, they’re certainly game, so that would be great. We had a lot of fun with Matt … It was a lot of shifting of power from one scene to the next with the two of them. Plus, just naturally — and not surprisingly — Lisa and LeBlanc have such great chemistry. They just slip into a comfort zone with each other, and it was really fun to watch.

Another Must-See TV fixture, Megan Mullally, comes on to write this hatchet-job musical about Fiona.
We played a little bit on [how] Megan has a well-known background in Broadway theater, and we really had a good time turning her into this alcoholic composer-lyricist that’s sort of glorifying the evil of Fiona Wallice. The music and the singing that Megan does, you can’t miss it, it’s hilarious. We’re sort of poking fun in a good-natured way at the Broadway community, what they find fodder for musicals and the titles of musicals, and the kind of song. Not to mention Fiona’s complete lack of knowledge of musicals, except for what Kip has taught her, is a lot of the fun of those scenes. Also, watching the moments where Fiona herself does a little taste of what kind of lyricist-composer she would be. We get a little taste of Lisa’s singing, which is among my favorite things this season.

What about your character, Fiona’s backstabbing former assistant Jerome? What ups and downs are coming this season?
Jerome began as this very meek doormat who believed that everything Fiona said was dead-on and inspiring. And, in a classic sort of Eve Harrington kind of way, he has managed to use the confidence she has helped instill in him to manipulate, in a passive-aggressive way, his own power. [This season] we’re going to continue to see a constant back-and-forth of him abusing his power and trying to get more of it in a way that still seems as obsequious as he always is. I have a really good time bouncing back and forth from trying to claim what’s my own [as Jerome] and being in reverence to my guru that is Fiona Wallice. It’s kind of sad to think of her as a guru to anybody, really [laughs] but that’s part of the fun of it.

Chelsea Handler manages to cross over between both your shows this season.
We’ve had many Web Therapy alums go on to do Who Do You Think You Are? Rosie O’Donnell did last season, so did Rashida Jones. The bottom line is, Who Do You Think You Are? is only as successful as the passion and interest as the subjects have in their own ancestry. We certainly have access to some of our Web Therapy alums, but the real basis of Who Do You Think You Are? is that it’s a very relatable and accessible way to learn history, when you’re following someone as they encounter their roots. The celebrity is just sort of a conduit, a tour guide. When we’re researching, the most exciting stories are the ones that highlight some of the major events in the history that we studied in school. This season, you wind up learning about the Civil War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican-American War, the Underground Railroad — so many different tentpoles in history. It’s amazing how, if you start to scratch the surface and do some research, many of our subjects will wind up touching on some of the most iconic moments in history.

Kelly Clarkson is an especially interesting case because she’s someone who, more than a lot of your other subjects, people in America already feel like they know.
It’s something that’s interesting about our show regardless of who the subject is, but in particular with Kelly, you can feel like you know someone’s life when they’re on a show that’s about their journey as a musician. You learn about their roots as a singer, their drive, their rise to fame — it’s so focused on the here and now and the journey to become who they are now. But Who Do You Think You Are? is so much more personal and intimate in a way. It takes you so much further back. There’s something very interesting about seeing Kelly in this context because it’s about her political drive and how inquisitive she is about her family and how much she wants to learn about what led her to become the person that she is, what led her to become the person who has the kind of ideals that she has. There’s something very profound about that. We’ve seen her sing and perform and expose her talents for us, but when you’re watching someone uncover and dig for information about what led to them becoming who they are — who their family was and who came before them — it’s a very different kind of journey. The other thing I love about Kelly is she’s just like anybody. There’s nothing highfalutin about her — what you see it what you get — and she’s really enthusiastic and passionate. You can see how excited and accessible she is. It’s one of my favorite episodes.

Jim Parsons and Zooey Deschanel are also among the stars set to appear this season. They’re known for their comedic skill, but Who Do You Think You Are? can get very emotional. What can we expect from their episodes?
Jim just started his journey yesterday, but I know as the producer that he’s got some unbelievable treasures to uncover in his historical past. A lot of times, our subjects are driven by something that happens in their lives, and I find that it adds a bit of depth to the motivation for doing the show. When you’ve lost a parent, it’s not the only motivation behind the inquiry, but it’s part of it — there’s always something emotional about that. Or, if you have a child, or when you get married. Zooey Deschanel’s is amazing and touches on some landmark historical occurrences in our history. She goes on a journey to find out more specifically things that she’d heard about as a kid, and it’s a very satisfying journey.

You must have become a big history geek by now. Would you consider going on the show?
I always loved history, but I wasn’t digging into my own ancestry that much. Now that I’ve watched the show, I find myself wanting to read more about the things that we talk about on the show. When you meet a character in history and get to meet them personally like we do on the show, you suddenly get so much more invested. Actually, I was tempted to start to research my family, and Lisa’s been encouraging me not to in case we ever turn the cameras on me.

Who Do You Think You Are? makes its debut on TLC tonight at 9 p.m. ET, while Web Therapy returns to Showtime at 11 p.m. ET.

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