Previously (in Part 1)
Six participants in a therapy weekend decided to end the group therapy session early after the therapist seems clueless. Together they go across the street to a bar to have a few drinks.
One Day in Group Therapy, part 2
In the TGI Fridays restaurant across the street, four of them sat around a bar table on high stools: Yuri the former Soviet dissident, Louis the compulsive gambler, Clio the woman who thinks she is a cat, and Paul, who has a phobia but who has not yet revealed what he is afraid of. Miriam had taken off after one drink, even though it was her idea to come to the bar – “family time,” she’d said – and Richard the silkworm cultivator had never made it to the bar at all, disappearing after they left the meeting room in the Conference Center.
“Miss Clio, are you really a cat?” Yuri asked. His face, despite all the tragedy he must have seen in his past life, was kindly, and he tugged sometimes at his mostly gray beard in a habitual gesture.
“Yes,” Clio said. “I am a cat.” She stretched out one hand, curling and uncurling the fingers like a cat flexing its claws. “We cats don’t like what the human race is doing to the planet. It is better to be a cat.”
Louis, leaning in, said, “How come you’re drinking a martini, then?”
Clio shrugged. “It’s all water.” Just to demonstrate her point, she put her tongue into the cool clear liquid and lapped a few times like a cat would.
It was a strange and oddly messy behavior. “I thought cats were neat,” Paul said. He wiped the table with a bar napkin.
“Real cats are neat,” said Louis. He was a small wiry man with creased cheeks and a not-so-tidy mustache.
“Speak for yourself,” Clio said. There might have been a row right then, especially with the alcohol involved. But just at that moment, Anne J. walked in and strode up to the bar.
“I’ll have a glass of Chardonnay,” she told the bartender. She pointed to the group of refugees from the therapy session and said, “I’m joining my friends.”
As she approached them they noticed she seemed familiar. She took the empty chair that Miriam had vacated.
“I’m Anne J.,” she said, extending her hand to each of them in turn. “Yuri, Louis, Paul, and of course, you are Clio.”
“How do you know our names?” Louis said suspiciously.
Anne J. just smiled. With her sunglasses and long dark hair, she had the glamour of a Jackie Onassis from long ago. She wore a gold bracelet on one wrist and a platinum watch on the other, and her clothes were one-off designer clothes – smart and chic but not overly expensive.
She set her bold leather handbag on the table and took the glass of wine from the bartender as he brought it to the table, setting it carefully on the bar napkin.
“Let’s just say I’m a consultant,” she said. “I heard that you left the therapy weekend early. And I thought you might be here.”
“Are you associated with the program?” Paul asked.
“In a way,” Anne said. “You might say I’m a researcher.”
“Researcher? Consultant? These words are not specific,” Yuri said.
Anne J. smiled again.
Clio took a drink of her martini. The regular way, not cat-like.
Paul said, “Which are you? Consultant or researcher? Or are you just putting us on?”
Anne took a sip of wine, and then she said, “I’m a makeover artist.”
“Like on a reality show? I knew it!” Louis said, snapping his fingers.
Paul asked, “So, this was all some sort of stunt for a reality show?”
“Not exactly,” Anne said. She took another sip of wine and swirled the wine in her glass before setting it down. “I like a nice smooth chardonnay,” she murmured.
“So – what is it?” Louis demanded.
“Let the woman finish her drink,” Clio put in.
Anne smiled again. Then she said, “With Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice show on the skids -”
Louis said, “Schwartzenegger isn’t cutting it?”
Anne shrugged. “Let’s say the network is interested in something different. Something like an everyman’s” – here she nodded toward Clio – “Every-person’s Apprentice. What’s it like to struggle with day-to-day with fears, paranoia, compulsions -”
“What’s that have to do with The Apprentice?” Paul asked. “We’re in therapy, not in business.”
“Exactly,” Anne said. “The concept is a sort of Oprah-meets-Dr. Phil-meets-Ellen . . . you’ll be the therapy group and we’ll bring in celebrity lifestyle experts; we’re thinking Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer . . . possibly even Suze Ormond – she can do a finance-counseling angle.”
“Wait,” Louis said. “How’d you hear about us?”
“Oh, well, that was easy,” Anne said. “We have scouts out. Richard mentioned you to us. Any group that has the moxie to get up and leave a group therapy weekend must have what it takes to appear on a national TV show about their fears, paranoias, etc. Am I right?”
She looked across the table at each of them. They weren’t wild about the idea at first. But at the same time, she could see they were interested.
“How much money are we talking about, Ms. Anne?” Yuri asked.
The five-figure amount she mentioned – per episode, six episodes to start – made up their minds.
“I’m in,” Louis said. Paul agreed and Yuri followed suit.
“What about you, Miss Clio?” Yuri asked.
Clio finished off the last of her drink. She stretched on the bar stool and narrowed her eyes, cat-like, but did not respond.
“Well? Whatd’ya say?” asked Paul.
“Hmmm,” Clio said. “I’m not sure. I mean, these reality shows are all edited to make the contestants look bad. You know?”
Paul said, “She’s got a point.”
Anne said, “The thing is, it’s the celebrity who will be on the line here. Not you four.”
There was a pause while they all considered this. Then Clio said, “Huh, a little like Dancing with the Stars, then? The expert dancer makes the contestant look good.”
Anne said, “Yes, exactly. It’s the gurus’ jobs to make you all appear perfectly well-adjusted. You’ll look great by the end of the show.”
Clio said, “It sounds like catnip to a cat. And besides, someone has to keep an eye on you three.”
“I’ll have the contracts sent to you on email by the end of the week,” Anne said. “Meantime, don’t go out of your way to get more therapy. We’re counting on your neuroses, you know.”
As she was leaving the bar, Louis called out, “Say! What’s the name of the show?”
“I’m a Celebrity Guru,” she answered.
“Not a great title,” Clio said after she left.
“Yeah, but you know these things,” Paul said. “They must go through a bunch of different titles before they settle on the final one.”
Louis said, “I don’t like it. Maybe something like, Therapy with the Stars.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Clio said. “Nobody’d watch it.”
Yuri said, “What difference does it make? We’ll be ahead either way with that kind of money.”
And he was right. Improbably, the show was a hit. The top-level gurus had declined the show, but the B-list lifestyle counselors the network brought in were nevertheless very popular with the audience, as were the Original Four therapy clients – Louis, Yuri, Clio, and Paul.
In Season Two, so many would-be therapy patients auditioned that the network started a new spin-off series, My Mania, in which participants competed to see who had the most outrageous neurosis. There was even a third series, Therapist On-Call, in which therapists were paired with clients to be their 24/7 on-call counselor – not unlike the TV show COPS that had been airing since 1989.
All three shows were big hits for the network, while “The Apprentice” was just a speed bump in the rear-view mirror of network ratings.