Did any of you catch the HBO comedy, The Comeback, when it ran for one season a few years ago? I'm halfway though the 13-episode series (now on DVD), and I have to say that it's pretty brilliant. Lisa Kudrow's character, Valerie Cherish, is a washed-up TV actress trying desperately to make a comeback in a career that really wasn't all that great to begin with—she starred in a lame sitcom called I'm It that somehow lasted 97 episodes (but just 3 shy of making syndication) and featured a monkey as one of the characters in a failed attempt to boost ratings.
Valerie, who would be completely pathetic if she weren't so goddamn hilarious (unintentionally most of the time?), thinks she's making a big return to TV when she gets cast in a new sitcom called Room and Bored, a show about thirtysomething roommates. However, the network decides to go a different route, turning it into a series about young sexy singles, and Valerie gets relegated to playing a bit part as the much-older Aunt Sassy who shows up to rattle off lame catchphrases like, "I don't need to SEE that!" (You had to be there.)
While making her "comeback," the network is also filming Valerie's every move for a reality show called, well, The Comeback. Yes, it's a show within a show within a show, and what we're seeing is supposedly raw, unedited footage from the reality series. (For those of you with vaginas, you'll be happy to know that Lisa Kudrow created the series with Sex and the City's Michael Patrick King.)
The Comeback is funny, layered, and at once deeply poignant and unsettling. You'll sit there muttering, "This is so sad." But it doesn't tug at your heartstrings and make you cry—it sort of punches you in the gut, like a little kid who doesn't know what else to do because he's so helpless. The show manages to say lots about Hollywood and fame, sure, but it cuts deeper when you consider its bigger themes about midlife, aging, womanhood, career, and our ongoing struggle for control over self-definition.
The shows "discomfort factor" reminds me of the British Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm, but I have to admit, while I recognize why those shows are so well-loved, I could never really get into them, despite multiple attempts. I guess I feel like hugging Lisa Kudrow (who was nominated for an Emmy here) in a way that I don't feel with Ricky Gervais or Larry David. And I like that wanting-to-hug feeling. Or maybe I'm more in tuned to vaginas than I think:
I was poking around IMDb, and I saw that on the DVD there's an interview with "Valerie" in which she's asked about her career after The Comeback. She says, "I recently turned down the lead in a TV movie about a woman who's raped by her entire town, including her father and brother and.... It's called A Matter of Life, and it would've been a nice dramatic turn, but it dealt with issues of abortion, and I don't wanna go anywhere NEAR that! Plus, it's shot up in Nova Scotia.... You know.... Get raped all day and then...nowhere nice to have dinner."