The Comeback (TV series)

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The Comeback
Poster for the TV series The Comeback
Format Mockumentary
Created by Lisa Kudrow
Michael Patrick King
Starring Lisa Kudrow
Malin Åkerman
Robert Bagnell
Lance Barber
Robert Michael Morris
Laura Silverman
Damian Young
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 13
Production
Camera setup Single camera
Running time 30 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel HBO
Original run June 5, 2005 (2005-06-05) – September 4, 2005 (2005-09-04)

The Comeback is a television series produced by HBO that stars actress Lisa Kudrow as sitcom actress Valerie Cherish in modern-day Los Angeles, California. It was created by Kudrow and Michael Patrick King, a former executive producer of Sex and the City. Kudrow and King were also screenwriters and executive producers of the series, with King also serving as the director of some episodes. The series premiered on HBO on June 5, 2005 and aired for a single season.

The show, a comedy, was shot by a two-camera crew, in the style of reality television. Viewers of The Comeback are watching raw footage shot for the fictional reality show within The Comeback, also called The Comeback.

The series' episode titles (excluding the pilot) begin with the main character's first name "Valerie..." followed the theme of the episode as the main character would have named them, e.g. "Valerie Triumphs at the Upfronts".

Despite a coveted time slot after the hit series Entourage, The Comeback debuted to low ratings and a mixed critical response; despite this, it was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Kudrow. HBO confirmed on September 21, 2005 that the series was officially canceled after only being on the air for thirteen weeks. Notwithstanding its initial lukewarm reception and short run, The Comeback has been retrospectively lauded. The show placed #79 on Entertainment Weekly's "New TV Classics" list. In 2009, the publication named The Comeback one of the ten best shows of the decade, calling it "the most brilliantly brutal satire of reality TV ever captured on screen."[1]

Plot[edit]

Valerie Cherish (Kudrow) is a D-grade actress who had it all. In the late 1980s and early 1990s while in her mid-twenties, she starred as the central character on a sexually-charged workplace sitcom known as I'm It! The show was a moderate hit during its first three seasons, but ratings began to falter, and the series was canceled by the network after 97 episodes. As such, it was too short on episodes to be given a real shot at off-network syndication, and became generally forgotten in the realm of pop culture. Valerie claims that I'm It! lost favor with its audience over a poorly-timed Rodney King joke, but it is later made clear that the quality of the show had declined well before that point. Since then, the fame and fortune Valerie gained from her success and triumphs has depleted. Now in her early-forties, she has become a married homemaker who hasn't had a meaningful acting role in over ten years, partly due to her age and personality. Valerie vows that she will make a comeback, which is the ultimate goal in her career as an actress.

Valerie agrees to star on a reality television series called The Comeback, which will chronicle the resurgence of a former sitcom actress' flagging career as she auditions for a starring role on a new network sitcom called Room and Bored, about four sexy 30-something singles living in a Los Angeles condominium. She wins the role over Marilu Henner and Kim Fields (as themselves), who also had signed on for a reality show, had either of them won the part. As production of Room and Bored begins and the series is tweaked to feature a younger cast, it becomes clear that Valerie's role no longer befits the show. As such, her part is significantly reduced to that of the main character's aunt and landlord, who is increasingly portrayed as loveless and pathetic. Valerie finds it difficult to accept that she isn't the star of the sitcom, although she remains part of the main cast, if only to satisfy the network's desire to provide enough content to produce the reality show.

The Room and Bored writer/producer duo of Paulie G. (Lance Barber) and Tom Peterman (Robert Bagnell) often clash with Valerie, as she tries to use her experiences on I'm It! as a trump card to influence them and her co-stars in nearly every situation with varying degrees of success. Meanwhile, Valerie struggles to maintain her dignity as The Comeback's crew, led by director Jane (Laura Silverman), chronicles her every move, exposing the problems in her home life (such as her husband Mark's [Damian Young] drug and pornography addictions) and what seem to be constant behind-the-scenes embarrassments at Room and Bored. Valerie puts on a smiling face for the reality cameras as often as she can, but finds it difficult to continue doing so as her life unfolds.

The showrunners of Room and Bored also see The Comeback as an unwelcome visitor in their world, with the presence of Jane and her crew disruptive to the flow of the sitcom's production and, via the network's insistence that Valerie remain on the show, their vision. Tom and (especially) Paulie G. continually find ways to exclude or embarrass Valerie as often as possible, which Valerie greatly resents and attempts to prevent, while director Jimmy (James Burrows) does his best to lower Valerie's expectations of her involvement. Most of the cast of Room and Bored, all in their early twenties, also consider Valerie out of place on the program. However, the show's star, Juna Millken (Malin Åkerman), idolizes Valerie from her time on I'm It! and views her as a mentor. Valerie becomes protective of Juna, but is also wildly jealous of her status, and attempts to use Juna as a viaduct to influence Tom and Paulie G. in ways Valerie can't. Valerie's intentions are usually well-meaning, but self-serving.

The sitcom enjoys modest success, and the reality show debuts on the network several weeks later. When it is presented in its finished form, the raw footage is creatively edited to present Valerie as a tyrant and Paulie G. as an empathetic character. While visibly angry with Jane about her portrayal, Valerie accepts the network's offer to do a second season of Room and Bored and The Comeback after the reality show receives high ratings.

Presentation[edit]

The Comeback is presented as raw footage shot for the fictional reality-show-version of The Comeback. Each episode begins with color bars, over which are superimposed the words "The Comeback Raw Footage". The show-within-a-show follows Valerie through her home life and her career resurgence. It offers behind-the-scenes footage of the other fictional show-within-a-show, Room and Bored. Viewers see part of the finished product of the fictional The Comeback in the series' final episode.

Characters[edit]

Major characters[edit]

  • Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow), the central character of The Comeback, was the star of a 1989-1993 sitcom, I'm It!, in which she played a young superstar attorney. Valerie has fallen out of the limelight but receives a call from her former network asking her to do a reality show called The Comeback, about an actress attempting to relaunch her flagging career by landing a starring role on the sitcom Room and Bored, a show featuring four sexy singles living in a condominium. The role is originally written as a 40-ish architect who acts as an older, wiser, yet still sexy roommate. However, after an early rehearsal, Valerie learns the script has been changed to reduce her character's role to that of a 40-ish landlord named Aunt Sassy, a character much like the Mrs. Roper character from Three's Company. Aunt Sassy is a woman who dresses only in pastel jogging suits, lives upstairs, and usually only appears in one scene per episode.
Despite the changed role, Valerie performs well, much to the delight of the audience and the network, and the show is greenlit for a fall season. However, still in denial that her day in the sun has passed, Valerie is obsessed with the direction of Room and Bored. She attempts to use her standing as a veteran sitcom star to persuade the young producers to take her suggestions for the show, despite numerous warnings to "back off." Valerie constantly reminds the crew of her success on I'm It! as a reason to listen to her. Valerie believes it is her duty to explain to her young co-stars what starring on a sitcom entails.
Initially, even with her reduced role, Valerie thinks she is (or should be) the real star of the show, and is very concerned about her image. It is only after a meeting with a cancer-stricken family friend that Valerie realizes she must learn humility and to make the best of every situation she is presented. In the end, Valerie agrees to return for a second season of her reality show, despite being thoroughly embarrassed (due to some creative editing) during its highly rated premiere. This serves as proof that she is willing to completely sacrifice her dignity to return to the spotlight.
Entertainment Weekly voted Valerie Cherish on The Comeback as Lisa Kudrow's second best performance.[2]
  • Jane (Laura Silverman) is the director of Valerie Cherish's reality show, The Comeback. Jane seems very committed to seeing Valerie is comfortable on camera and is forced to endure the drama that Valerie creates. Jane is seldom seen on-camera, but her voice is often heard. When she is seen on camera, often she is mortified at what she perceives as Valerie's increasingly pathetic attempts to regain stardom. Jane attempts to limit her communication with Valerie, so as not to sacrifice the "reality" content of the show, but the star constantly seems to be talking to Jane. Valerie will ask her director for advice and "re-shoots" of a particular event, and Jane will usually avoid such communication and deny such requests by repeatedly telling Valerie she is forbidden to interact with her in any way. The relationship between the two comes to a head in the final episode.
  • Mark Berman (Damian Young) is Valerie's loving (and extremely patient) husband. They had lived a quiet lifestyle until camera crews invaded their privacy. Mark is a dedicated businessman with very little understanding of show business. He doesn't seem to be impressed by Valerie's celebrity and is annoyed by the reality show cameras but admits to using cocaine and watching pornography on camera. Valerie refers to Mark most often as "Marky Mark" and also by the nickname "Love Ball".
  • Mickey Deane (Robert Michael Morris) has been Valerie Cherish's hairdresser and friend since the late 1980s. Between I'm It! and Room and Bored, he only worked for the actress part-time. Mickey agreed to work for Valerie full-time as she was cast on Room and Bored in order to receive health benefits from the studio. Mickey is an effeminate man in his 60s who believes that his obvious homosexuality is a well-kept secret. He came out of the closet in the finale.
  • Paulie G. (Lance Barber) is one of the two co-creators, head writers, and executive producers of Room and Bored. He is the person who pushed the change in Valerie's character, as he is very unsympathetic to Valerie herself. Paulie G disagreed with Valerie's casting from the beginning, and constantly seeks to reduce her role on the show. Paulie G is resentful of Valerie's efforts to control Room and Bored and attempts to avoid any communication with Valerie, despite her endeavors to butter him up. In one episode, Valerie and her camera crew walk in on Paulie receiving fellatio. Though viewers watching the "raw footage" know Paulie G's true intentions toward Valerie, the editors of The Comeback have polished the finished "reality show" by using the same footage to portray Paulie G as a sympathetic producer and all-around nice guy while Valerie is shown to be the antagonist between the two.
  • Tom Peterman (Robert Bagnell) is the other of the two co-creators, head writers, and executive producers of Room and Bored. While he tends to agree with Paulie G that Valerie is too overbearing, he attempts to accommodate her requests and show ideas. Unlike Paulie G, Tom tries to communicate calmly with Valerie and treat her with appropriate respect. Valerie tends to speak to Tom first when approaching the producers. Tom and Paulie G. have worked as a team in the past, and together won an Emmy for a The Simpsons script.
  • Juna Millken (Malin Åkerman) is a beautiful young blonde model and musician, who (in her first-ever acting role) plays Cassie, the lead character and niece of Aunt Sassy on Room and Bored. Juna and Valerie become fast friends on and off the set. Juna sees Val as her mentor, and Val calls Juna her "baby girl", though Valerie is silently jealous of Juna's stardom.

Minor characters[edit]

  • Shayne Thomas (Kimberly Kevon Williams) plays Dylan, Juna's sexy roommate on Room and Bored. Shayne is a Christian who objects to the sexual content of Valerie's reality show, but overlooks the obvious sexual innuendo included within Room and Bored because she is playing a character and is not being "herself".
  • Jesse Wood (Jason Olive) plays Stitch, the sexy African-American male roommate on Room and Bored. He had been turned down for several acting jobs before landing his current role on the show.
  • Chris MacNess (Kellan Lutz) plays Mooner, the sexy surfer-type roommate on Room and Bored, who is a love interest to Juna's character. As an actor, he is curious why Valerie is on the show due to her age difference with the younger generation of the cast.
  • Jimmy Burrows (James Burrows) plays himself and is the director of many, but not all, of the Room and Bored episodes. His scenes with Valerie indicate the two have previously worked together. Though Jimmy likes Valerie and genuinely wants to help her succeed, he becomes increasingly annoyed with her antics and her reality crew. His attempts to escape Jane and her cameras are usually futile. Jimmy must sternly remind Valerie quite often that she is not the star of Room and Bored and that her input to the producers is unwelcome. Burrows' real career as a television director enhances the show's believability, as he has won several Emmy awards for his work as producer and director of such series as Friends, Cheers, Frasier, and Will & Grace.
  • Francesca Berman (Vanessa Marano) is Valerie's stepdaughter. Francesca has generally tried to avoid Valerie, but becomes very eager to bond with her stepmother when in front of the reality show cameras. Francesca lives primarily with her birth mother, but on occasion stays with Mark and Valerie at their Beverly Hills home.
  • Peter aka "Peter Darling" (Nathan Lee Graham) is wardrobe supervisor for "Room and Bored". He famously quipped the line "Do you have a juicy ass?" in response to Valerie's request for Juicy Couture even though the script called for a running suit.
  • Gigi (Bayne Gibby), a naive playwright from New York City, is hired as the newest writer for Room and Bored. Valerie becomes fast friends with Gigi, with the ulterior motive of getting Aunt Sassy a greater role on the show, and to attempt to supersede some of the writing decisions of Tom and Paulie G. Sensing Valerie's intentions, the show's creators have forbidden any further fraternization between Valerie and Gigi. Gigi has a difficult time fitting in with the boys' club mentality of the writers' room and puts on a considerable amount of weight as a result.
  • Esperanza (Lillian Hurst) is Valerie and Mark's Hispanic housekeeper. She is very uncomfortable around the cameras, often simply staring into them with a suspicious glare on her face.
  • Billy Stanton (Dan Bucatinsky) is Valerie's publicist, hired to earn Valerie magazine covers (due mainly to her jealousy of Juna's photo appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone). Billy is a second-rate publicist who is just starting his own agency. He is very aggressive and tends to push and shove anybody who offends or disagrees with him. The first magazine cover he lands Valerie is for a yoga magazine, despite Val's ignorance of the yoga culture.
  • Kaveen Kahan and Greg Narayan (Maulik Pancholy and Amir Talai) are a comedy duo brought in by the network to spice up "Room and Bored" as Juna's foreign pen pals.

Episodes[edit]

Season 1: 2005[edit]

Episode Title Directed by Written by Original Airdate
1 "The Comeback (Pilot)" Michael Patrick King Lisa Kudrow & Michael Patrick King June 5, 2005 (HBO)
Valerie Cherish starts a new chapter in her TV career as she agrees to allow cameras to trail her around the clock for a reality show called "The Comeback", a prerequisite for being cast in the pilot of the new series "Room and Bored." 
2 "Valerie Triumphs at the Upfronts" Michael Patrick King Lisa Kudrow & Michael Patrick King June 12, 2005 (HBO)
Valerie, Mickey and the cast of "Room and Bored" travel to New York for a traditional network event where new shows are unveiled to the media. 
3 "Valerie Bonds with the Cast" Michael Lehmann Michael Patrick King June 19, 2005 (HBO)
After a table read for "the first official episode", Valerie invites her co-stars to a "bonding lunch", but Juna doesn't show up. The two make up later with a one-on-one lunch, where Valerie learns why Juna is such a paparazzi favorite. At home, Valerie is touched when Francesca appears to reach out to her at long last. 
4 "Valerie Stands Up for Aunt Sassy" Michael Lehmann John Riggi June 26, 2005 (HBO)
Concerned that Paulie G. has written an unflattering line that will turn audiences against her character, Valerie enlists a new writer, Gigi, to help pitch a less-offensive one. Meanwhile, Valerie rethinks her impulsive decision to adopt a puppy. 
5 "Valerie Demands Dignity" Greg Mottola Linda Wallem July 10, 2005 (HBO)
Valerie worries that her comeback storyline isn't "enough", as the network tries to spice up her reality show by cross-breeding it with another one, and by pulling a highway prank that nearly sabotages Valerie's lunch with a TV Guide editor; at home, Mark is increasingly frustrated by the restraints the ubiquitous cameras have imposed on their sex life. 
6 "Valerie Saves the Show" Greg Mottola Michael Schur July 17, 2005 (HBO)
With the cast in a funk after a lackluster premiere, Valerie tries to boost morale with a late-night cookie delivery that gives new meaning to her trademark line, "I don't want to see that!"; Mickey accuses Valerie of sharing details about his private life with Juna; and Valerie tries to persuade Shayne to see her reality show in a different "light." 
7 "Valerie Gets a Special Episode" Michael Lehmann John Riggi July 24, 2005 (HBO)
Excited about a "Room and Bored" episode dedicated to her character, Valerie pulls some strings to get a "name" actor to play Aunt Sassy's romantic interest; and Mark's behavior at the Viper Room brings to light intimacy issues that are ultimately too hot for the camera. 
8 "Valerie Relaxes in Palm Springs" Michael Lehmann Linda Wallem and Michael Patrick King July 31, 2005 (HBO)
Valerie and Mark head to the desert for a long weekend at a Palm Springs resort, with strings attached; and while Mark draws the line with Jane's crew on the golf course, Valerie finds a new mentor in an old acquaintance. 
9 "Valerie Hangs With the Cool Kids" J. Clark Mathis Michael Schur August 7, 2005 (HBO)
At the insistence of the network, "Room and Bored" gets a makeover and adds two new cast members, Greg and Kaveen, spurring talk of a coup by the "original five." Meanwhile, Francesca's new friend Kalla shakes up the status quo at home. 
10 "Valerie Gets a Magazine Cover" David Steinberg Amy B. Harris August 15, 2005 (HBO)
With Juna getting all the hype and most of the magazine covers, Valerie enlists a new publicist, Billy Stanton, to land a cover of her own. Billy obliges by scoring a shoot for Be Yoga magazine, forcing Valerie to remodel her fitness room and take a yoga crash course. 
11 "Valerie Stands Out on the Red Carpet" Michael Patrick King Michael Patrick King August 21, 2005 (HBO)
When Room and Bored gets nominated for a People's Choice Award, Valerie gets a new dress and a new look. 
12 "Valerie Shines Under Stress" David Steinberg Heather Morgan August 28, 2005 (HBO)
Jane pulls rank on Tom and Paulie G to get Valerie more lines on Room and Bored. A stalker threat forces extra security on the set, exposing Valerie's old back problems as she's prepping for a big pratfall scene. 
13 "Valerie Does Another Classic Leno" Michael Patrick King Michael Patrick King September 4, 2005 (HBO)
After hosting a memorable coming-out party for the premiere of The Comeback, Valerie makes an even more memorable guest appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

Reception[edit]

The New York Times gave the show a lukewarm review, dubbing it "interesting", but also complaining about a lack of originality in the concept and finding The Comeback ultimately less entertaining than its fellow HBO series Entourage.[3]

Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, "Starring the superb Lisa Kudrow as a washed-up sitcom actress, this comedy may have lasted only 13 episodes, but it's the most brilliantly brutal satire of reality TV ever captured on screen."[4] In 2012, the magazine listed the show at #8 in the "25 Best Cult TV Shows from the Past 25 Years," saying, "Both painfully uncomfortable and deadpan hilarious, The Comeback was spot-on in its inside-showbiz look at the making of a sitcom - while featuring one of the decade's biggest sitcom stars, no less. But it was so inside, it was too inaccessible to a mass audience, or even an audience that might have returned for a second season on HBO."[5]

In a commemorative article in 2012, popular UK newspaper The Guardian praised the show for its 'bittersweet comedy', and Lisa Kudrow for her 'ego-free acting.' The newspaper questions whether, in an era where 'You can't move for meta-sitcoms', the sitcom was just 'too far ahead of its time'.

Possibility of return[edit]

Kudrow stated in 2010, speaking of where the show may have gone in season two if it were not canceled: "All we really knew for season two was that Paulie G. would end up getting fired, Gigi would end up in charge and the sitcom turns into a huge mess – that and Valerie’s marriage would be on the rocks."[6] On July 26, 2013 in an interview on the Bravo TV show Watch What Happens: Live, Andy Cohen asked Kudrow if she would bring The Comeback back to TV. It is something Kudrow has thought about, and talked about with series co-creator Michael Patrick King. "Every time we get together for lunch, we’re talking about, ‘OK, so what would happen next?’ So we are talking," Kudrow admitted. Her character, Valerie Cherish, was an actress who had recently starred in a top-rated sitcom. After its cancellation, though, she'd had a harder time maintaining her celebrity. Kudrow admitted that she never really stops thinking about where Valerie would be now. Ironically, Kudrow got an Emmy nod for her portrayal, along with two other nominations for the show.“Taking classes at the Actor’s Studio. Just because," she speculated about Valerie. "We really want her to be on a Bravo show.” Wouldn't she be perfect for the Real Housewives franchise! Kudrow said she wasn't comfortable asking people for money in a Kickstarter campaign to bring back the show, but said that someone else certainly could. For now, it can join the list of shows that critics consider to have been ahead of their time.

In early 2014, Deadline.com reported that HBO is in preliminary talks with the series' producers to revive The Comeback for a second season, nearly a decade after its original run.[7]

DVD[edit]

"The Comeback - The Complete Only Season" was released on Region 1 DVD on August 1, 2006, with the Region 2 version released on September 18, 2006. The discs include all thirteen aired episodes as well as the following special features:

- Audio commentary on Episode 1 by Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King

- Audio commentary on Episode 2 by Valerie Cherish

- Audio commentary on Episode 3 by Michael Patrick King

- Audio commentary on Episode 9 by Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King

- Audio commentary on Episode 12 by Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King

- Audio commentary on Episode 13 by Michael Patrick King

- "Valerie: After the Laughter" (8:47) is like an epilogue for Ms. Cherish as she tries to explain what she'll be doing now that Room and Bored and The Comeback have been put on hiatus.

- "Valerie Backstage at Dancing with the Stars" (6:12) is the sitcom/reality star backstage at Dancing with the Stars

- Both discs also offer an episode index

Video On Demand[edit]

As of April 2014, The Comeback is available on-demand on HBO GO.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Best of the Decade: Television," Entertainment Weekly (December 17, 2009)[1]
  2. ^ "The EW Office Poll: Lisa Kudrow Dishes It Out," Entertainment Weekly 1026 (December 19, 2008): 12.
  3. ^ http://tv.nytimes.com/2005/06/03/arts/television/03tvwk.html?ref=lisa_kudrow
  4. ^ Geier, Thom; Jensen, Jeff; Jordan, Tina; Lyons, Margaret; Markovitz, Adam; Nashawaty, Chris; Pastorek, Whitney; Rice, Lynette; Rottenberg, Josh; Schwartz, Missy; Slezak, Michael; Snierson, Dan; Stack, Tim; Stroup, Kate; Tucker, Ken; Vary, Adam B.; Vozick-Levinson, Simon; Ward, Kate (December 11, 2009), "THE 100 Greatest MOVIES, TV SHOWS, ALBUMS, BOOKS, CHARACTERS, SCENES, EPISODES, SONGS, DRESSES, MUSIC VIDEOS, AND TRENDS THAT ENTERTAINED US OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS". Entertainment Weekly. (1079/1080):74-84
  5. ^ "25 Best Cult TV Shows from the Past 25 Years." Entertainment Weekly. August 3, 2012, p. 39.
  6. ^ "My encounters with Lisa Kudrow..." 5-18-2010 http://sunsetandcelebs.com/index/2010/05/my-encounters-with-lisa-kudrow-clark-gregg-and-jennifer-grey-at-the-geffen-playhouse/
  7. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (March 20, 2014). "HBO Eyes Return Of Michael Patrick King/Lisa Kudrow Comedy ‘The Comeback’". Deadline.com. PMC. Retrieved March 31, 2014. 

External links[edit]