Sunday, August 15, 2010

"The Comeback" Needs a Comeback

It's certainly not for everyone, but if there's one superb show that you probably missed a few years ago, this is it - and you need to get it on DVD.

"The Comeback" aired on HBO for one season in the summer of 2005. It stars Lisa Kudrow as has-been sitcom actress Valerie Cherish, who last stared in a four-season hit series called "I'm It" back in the late '80s/early '90s. She's stuck in that time - right down to her hair.

The series unfolds as Valerie auditions for a new NBC sitcom called "Room & Bored." Auditioning against her (and playing themselves) are 80s sitcom icons Marilu Henner and Kim Fields. Whoever lands the role will star in a companion NBC reality series that will air right after "Room & Bored," called "The Comeback."

Yep, you guessed it. "The Comeback" will chronicle the actress' return to prime time television, with cameras rolling on her 24/7 - at home, on the set of "Room & Bored," in the car, at meetings - everywhere. Of course Valerie lands the role.

Kudrow co-executive produced this series with Michael Patrick King, former executive producer of "Sex and the City." The two of them lend an air of true reality to this series that is sometimes hard to watch. Like "The Office," you will find yourself cringing. But like a slightly painful hang nail that you can't stop picking at, I found myself addicted to this hilarious series.

"The Comeback" is really two shows in one. Actually, almost three shows in one. Most if it is shot from the point of view of the reality show cameras. A few scenes are done with Valerie's home video camera that she uses for a daily vlog. But through those cameras you also get the sitcom "Room & Bored." In its entirety, you get the a true feel of what it's like to work in television, in today's Hollywood. The retooling of "Room & Bored," the politics of the business, and the endless cruel rejections that almost melt away with the rare triumphs. Most of all, you get a candid look at an actress' ego, and how it both protects her psyche and makes her kind of, well, absurd.

What makes this work so well is Kudrow. Valerie Cherish could so easily become a character who annoys the hell out of you. It wouldn't have been hard for you to really dislike her. Think "Fat Actress" or that horrible Paula Abdul reality show "Hey Paula." I kind of think "The Comeback" was modeled after "Hey Paula." Cherish's view of herself and her world is certainly skewed. She's stuck in a 20-year old "bubble." Yet somehow Kudrow's Cherish is not only likable, a few episodes in and you're really rooting for her. Sometimes she really comes through and just blows you away. You yell "right on Valerie" at your TV. You come to realize that, for the most part, she is competent and knows how to "play the game" in Hollywood. She's just stuck in time.

One of the true standouts in the cast is Robert Michael Morris as Mickey Deane, Valerie's hairdresser. Mickey goes fulltime with Valerie to get health insurance, and he goes everywhere with her. He's one-part hair stylist, one-part confidant, one-part BFF. As an effeminate man in his sixties who believes that his obvious homosexuality is a well-kept secret, Morris steals nearly every scene he's in.

I'm torn about this series lasting just one season. I certainly wanted more at its conclusion, yet I can't help but feel it ended perfectly, leaving us a limited edition series that "always leaves you wanting more" (tm Seinfeld).

Pick up "The Comeback" on DVD. Make sure you go several episodes before turning away. It WILL capture you around episode three.

Excellent clip in which Lisa Kudrow proves she's a woman of many characters - not just ditzy Phoebe Buffay and her sister Ursula.


Lisa said...

Welcome back, Scott! Would you believe that I completely overlooked this series the first time around? I have seen the error of my ways and I'll catch it now. Sounds like something I'd enjoy and Lisa Kudrow is an interesting comic actress. Thanks for giving us a great heads-up on something many of us may have missed!

friendlier said...

Wonderful review. I just discovered The Comeback a few weeks ago and was blown away. I'd heard from friends that it was brilliant, and for once that estimation was true.

You're right about the cancellation. I think it ends exactly where it should. But I already miss Valerie and Mickey and wish there was more, something I rarely say about American television shows.