“The Comeback” recap (2.1): Valerie Makes a Pilot

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When billboards featuring the face of Lisa Kudrow as Valerie Cherish went up all over NYC and LA, a resounding “YAASSS” shook the nation. Cult classic The Comeback, has come back! The show premiered in 2005 to a low hum. It was a bit before its time, but the Comeback slowly became an underground hit.

I remember a good friend of mine in college forcing me to watch the show. I was skeptical at first, but as I watched these fully fleshed out characters interact and saw their relationships blossom, I fell so deeply in love that I ended up watching the 12 episode series about ten times over. My friends and I would put it on at parties, quote it non-stop, and eventually come to revere Valerie Cherish as a deity.

However, in the same vein of My So Called Life and Freaks and Geeks, the fun came to an end too soon. Now we have another chance to laugh/cry at this deeply narcissistic and unsettling world! Valerie is back!

This season will be eight episodes of excitement, as fans are given a chance to share more moments with Val, the “washed up” actress whose honest efforts at making her career work are as awkward as they are endearing. We also reconnect with Mickey (Robert Michael Morris), Valerie’s hairdresser and best friend who loves Val dearly and just came out of the closet at the end of last season (no surprise there), and Paulie G.(Lance Barber) the villainous writer for Room and Bored, the original show within a show that Val was cast in nine years ago. This season will focus on the new show, Seeing Red, which Paulie G. wrote about his time working with Valerie on Room and Bored. So meta.

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The footage we are seeing as The Comeback is raw footage from the fake reality show of the same name. In the first season, the director of the reality show was Jane (Laura Silverman), who Val connects to most as she tries to shape the image she will portray in the reality show. We see season one through Jane’s eyes, however it’s obvious that her goal is to make “good television”, sometimes to the detriment of the image Valerie is aiming for. While we don’t see her in the first episode, it is rumored that she has won an Oscar for a documentary about lesbians at Treblinka, a Nazi Death Camp. She is a lesbian herself, which we will find out in the next episode, aka why we are recapping this very show.

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The anticipation has been overwhelming.

The episode opens to Valerie in a room of very young kids (one claims he was nine years old when the original The Comeback aired) shakily holding lights and cameras. She has hired the kids to record her life to make a presentation for Andy Cohen at Bravo, with whom she has been “communicating”, though it is unclear what exactly that means. Knowing the overly positive Val, it is likely he followed her on Twitter and she turned around and started production on her own reality series, but that’s just my guess. Val updates us on her activities since we last saw her: She has shot about seven student films (“Independent” films, as Val refers to them), had an arc as a doctor on a crime show, tried selling a hair care line for red heads (because “WHY SHOULD BLONDES AND BRUNETTES GET ALL THE ATTENTION?!”), and had a particularly embarrassing scene on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

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Her publicist comes over to give her news that will drive the course of this season. Her arch enemy, writer Paulie G, has written a new show for HBO called Seeing Red. The show will be about a writer who is coping with his heroin addiction and is forced to work on a sitcom with a nightmare of a woman, Mallory Church, whom he views as the downfall of his life. Val calls her agent to find the script, but it seems that her agent no longer works there. One of the student filmmakers finds it easily online and prints it out for Val to read. As Val realizes that the script truly is about her, her lawyer husband, Mark (Damian Young), promises to get HBO to stop production on the show, or at least to set up a lawsuit situation.

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The next day, as Val takes the young film crew to a drive-thru burger place, Twitter alerts her that Andy Cohen is lunching nearby and she decides to take initiative and go see him. She arrives at the restaurant where the maitre’d awkwardly punches her in the stomach to keep her from the dining room with the cameras. This does stop her, but she gets the host to let her crew go in with iPhones because he “owes” her. Once in the restaurant Val is introduced to Andy’s lunch date, RuPaul. The conversation with Andy is incredibly uncomfortable (duh, this is The Comeback, after all!) and gets her nowhere, leading her to scold herself for being “too nice! That’s not TV!”

As she leaves the restaurant, paparazzi come running at her. She tries to strike a pose but is stampeded. They brutalize her as they try to get to someone behind her; an old castmate, friend, and newfound movie star, Juna Millken (Malin Akerman). She yells for Juna’s attention along with the masses, to no avail. Once Juna is in her SUV, she pulls away, but stops after ten feet to come back and say hello to Val and Mickey. The cameras click away as Val attempts to make a lunch date with Juna, which will have to be four months later as Juna is shooting a film and a spread for Vogue. It’s obvious Val knows that having Juna on her pilot presentation would really sell it.

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She gets a message from Mark saying that they are ready to go through with a cease and desist for HBO. She heads over to the HBO office to inform them of her plans, only to realize that they are already auditioning for the role of Mallory Church (Katherine Hahn is up next). She ends up heading into the audition room where the team, along with a more-pleasant-than-ever Paulie G., are reviewing footage of Chelsea Handler auditioning for the part. Val has been repeating to the camera that “It could get messy” since she got off the elevator, but when faced with Paulie she can’t help but be nice. She even congratulates him on overcoming his heroin addiction. Revved up to tell them all off, she is fully derailed when they give her the opportunity to read for the part. She refuses to do a cold reading (she likes to have things memorized, as nothing comes easily to the hard working Valerie), but today is the only day they are casting. She agrees to read cold and the team opts to give her a “meatier” monologue. She reluctantly puts on her glasses, and stands before the room reading the words for the first time. They seem to hit her hard, but she reads aloud anyway. The monologue she performs is a cutting revelation. It is obvious how Paulie thinks of her. The self deprecating words are difficult for Val, which lead her to real turmoil. The piece ends with her saying “Fuck you! Fuck you!” to the Paulie character and you can tell it is coming from somewhere very deep inside of her. The faces of the whole team are stunned by how great she was, and she is stunned by the real emotion she just expressed. She exits the room, and her mic drops into the closing door, allowing Val’s crew to pick up on everything the team is saying.

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The final scene of the season two premiere is a very pleased Val attempting to re-enact for the crew the phone call she just had with her new agent. She got the part as Mallory Church! Mark asks her, “Weren’t you about to file a lawsuit against them?”

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This season looks like it is going to be a terrifying ride through Paulie’s warped (or maybe astute? We’ll see?) recollection of what occurred during that first fateful season of The Comeback. It is a thrill to see HBO make such a meta, self-mocking, critical show about how painfully sad and hilarious the business can be. Kudrow’s deep understanding of who Valerie is makes this show so engaging. I am so excited for next week when we get to meet Jane again, and hear about the tales of the lesbians at Treblinka!

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