Season Two, Episode One
“Valerie Makes a Pilot”
TL;DR version of this review: The Comeback is great, and as good as ever
Welcome back, The Comeback! While I wouldn’t say that I missed you, I’m so very glad you’re back. Your return fills a hole I didn’t have, until you returned and filled that hole. That last sentence, in all it’s convoluted but emotionally resonant glory, will set the tone for the review to follow. If that turns you off, see the “too long; didn’t read” version of my review above.
The Comeback isn’t easy to describe. It is comedy and drama. It looks like improv but is scripted. It’s meta: The Comeback is raw footage of a reality show of a sitcom. It’s seems complex when you write it all out on paper, but when you watch The Comeback, everything intuitively makes sense.
Created by Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City, 2 Broke Girls) and Lisa Kudrow (Friends, Web Therapy), The Comeback stars Kudrow as Valerie Cherish, a once-famous television actress working hard to regain fame and prestige. In season one, Valerie experiences her “comeback” to television. She lands a role on a new network sitcom, Room and Bored, a hacky take on 20-somethings living in a loft. Valerie plays “Aunt Sassy,” the matronly comic relief figure. When Valerie earns the role of Aunt Sassy, she also earns the right to her own reality show, “The Comeback.” The reality show documents Valerie’s many humiliations (some of which are inflicted by the bad-intentioned head writer of Room and Bored, Paulie G, but many that are self-induced) and her victories, which are few and far between. What we see, as viewers, is an edited version of the raw footage of the reality show.
Last Sunday, The Comeback returned to HBO after nine years away (season one aired in the summer of 2005). Those nine years show all over the face of “Valerie Makes a Pilot” (but barely show up at all on Kudrow, who looks stunning at 51.) A lot has happened since 2005. For one, Friends hasn’t been on TV for 10 years. That is major, because when The Comeback originally aired, Lisa Kudrow had just ended a ten year run as Phoebe Buffay. At the time, a lot of us had an idea of what type of character Lisa Kudrow played, and Valerie Cherish wasn’t it. Secondly, more shows star flawed women these days. Hard to believe, but in 2005, that was still rare. But most importantly, reality TV didn’t die as projected in the early 2000’s. If you missed The Comeback its first time through, don’t fret. Now is a much better time to watch the series. In 2014, we have all seen reality shows and we all know how they work. We know how certain people will act when put in front of a camera, and the shock of humiliation is much less blunt.
I remember watching the series way back and the words “grim” and “almost unwatchable” come to mind, due to how awkward the show was. I recently re-watched season one, and had a much milder reaction. While I still found some moments intensely awkward, my tummy didn’t hurt so much while watching them. Years of watching reality TV has seasoned my sensibilities, and I can handle a much, much higher level of awkwardness. I was freed up from the pain of humiliation to enjoy the comedy of season one.
Season two is all about Valerie’s second comeback. The first episode begins with Valerie explaining to the camera that she is filming a self-funded pilot for a reality show starring herself, that she would like to pitch to Bravo. Valerie is still together with her loving husband, Mark, as well as her doting hairdresser, Mickey. Over the course of episode one, Valerie stalks the head of Bravo TV, gets punched in the stomach, finds out her old tormentor wrote a nasty new TV pilot about her, nails an audition, and gets into a fight with her husband. It’s dramatic and sassy and painful and funny, and the fact that so much happens reinforces the most important quality about Valerie Cherish: she works hard. While she may be a joke to some, and a pain in the ass to others, no one can deny that she is a hard-working actress. Give her a bad joke? She’ll put the work in and try to make it funny. Make fun of her on a reality show? She’ll find a way to use it to her advantage. Offer her a role playing a satirical version of herself? She will definitely consider it.
The best scene of “Valerie Makes a Pilot” shows how hard Valerie works. At an audition for HBO, she does a cold read of a monologue that is emotionally upsetting to her. Does she quit? No. She reads it to her best damn ability. A reality show about Valerie will always be interesting because Valerie is always in motion. She’s always striving to be better – more work, more famous, more loved. And in the process she does some awfully embarrassing things.
So far, season two of The Comeback has just as many laughs and just as many cringe-worthy moments as the best episodes of season one. While the absence of Jane, the reality show producer, is missing from episode one, I have high hopes for the dumb-dumbs Valerie has hired for her own crew. Also, I think Valerie playing Valerie is going to be a trainwreck, and it’ll be SO ENJOYABLE to watch.
Who do I think would love The Comeback? Anyone who liked the movie Adaptation.
Anyone else? Lisa Kudrow fans. TV fans. Fans of well rounded characters.
Where can I watch The Comeback? HBO. “The Internet”
If I like the Real Housewives franchise will I like The Comeback? A hard maybe.