Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 25, 2006)
When Friends finally came to an end in 2004, two of its stars decided to continue their television careers. However, they went down very different paths. Matt LeBlanc took the seemingly safe road with the spin-off series Joey. However, the show never remotely lived up to the Friends legacy. It limped through two seasons before it apparently got the axe; based on what I’ve seen, it won’t return for a third year.
On the other hand, Lisa Kudrow made a more daring choice. She opted to take on an HBO series called The Comeback. Rather than cling to her successful path, Kudrow pursued a character who would mock her history. This show wasn’t a smash hit; indeed, it only
As related on the back cover of the DVD set, The Comeback casts Kudrow as “fallen star Valerie Cherish, a former B-list sitcom actress desperate to revive her career. For her, no price is too high to pay for clinging to the television spotlight. Valerie agrees to be the subject of an intrusive reality TV series, with cameras following her every move as she lands the part of ‘Aunt Sassy’ in the tedious new sitcom, Room and Bored.”
That sets up the series, so now we’ll go through its 13 episodes. I’ll go through them in the order produced and aired. (Unusually, both are the same.) The synopses come straight from the DVD menus – they’re short but sweet!
The Comeback (Pilot): “Faded television starlet Valerie Cherish attempts to land a role in a new sitcom, Room and Bored, by taking part in a reality show chronicling her somewhat mortifying ‘comeback’”.
Huh – guess I didn’t need that series set-up since the plot of the “Pilot” sums it up pretty well. It also launches the series on a strong note. It clearly throws out the characters and concepts that will develop, and it does so in a clever manner. We see Valerie from the reality show point of view. This can feel a little forced, but it works, and it’ll be fun to see what happens from here. Add to that cameos from Kim Fields and Marilu Henner for a little verisimilitude and this becomes a good show.
Valerie Triumphs at the Upfronts: “The cast of Room & Bored is flown to New York City to introduce the media to Aunt Sassy and her attractive young charges. The ever bubbly Valerie gets a reality check on just how far her star has fallen.”
While the pilot set up the premise, “Upfronts” provides a better glimpse at how the show will work from episode to episode. This makes for a funny program as we see Valerie’s frequent humiliations, but it makes me wonder how well the series will develop. The theme could get old before too long. That issue remains in the future, though, as “Upfronts” works nicely and proves entertaining.
Valerie Bonds with the Cast: “After a table read for ‘the first official episode’, Valerie invites her co-stars to a ‘bonding lunch’ but Juna (Malin Akerman) 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.”
Though “Bonds” continues the series’ main theme – Valerie’s constant humiliation – it also remains amusing. Some of the best parts come from the smallest ones, as I particularly like Valerie’s obsession with the pronunciation of “aunt”. Chalk this up as another solid episode.
Valerie Stands Up for Aunt Sassy: “Concerned that Paulie G. (Lance Barber) 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.”
If nothing else, “Stands” deserves a look because it gives us a look at Valerie’s old show I’m It. The episode throws out plenty of other laughs as well, particularly when Valerie proves to be a terrible puppy owner. Nothing revelatory emerges here, but the show works fine.
Valerie Demands Dignity: “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.”
“Dignity” branches out a little as it shows more of Valerie’s personal life and less of Room & Bored. It provides some nice bits when Valerie tries to casually interact with a store clerk, and the reality show twist is good. There’s also more of the relationship between Valerie and her husband. Add to that Kudrow’s subtle awkwardness when she meets vertically challenged Charla and this becomes a solid show that stretches the series’ boundaries a bit.
Valerie Saves the Show: “With the cast in a funk following Room & Bored’s 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!’”
Though the program tries to address it, one major logic problem occurs here: why would a devout Christian like Shayne work on such a smutty show? Sure, she attempts to explain this, but it rings false and feels like her religion exists solely for some twists.
Nonetheless, this is another entertaining episode. We get more of the amusing Mickey (Robert Michael Morris), the gayest man ever to believe he passes for straight. It’s also nice to see something positive happen for Valerie, even if it occurs for less than noble reasons.
Valerie Gets a Very Special Episode: “Excited about a Room & Bored episode dedicated to her character, Valerie pulls some strings to get a ‘name’ actor to play Aunt Sassy’s romantic interest. A celebration at the Viper Room proves typically embarrassing for Valerie.”
I knew that the high note “Saves” left Valerie on wouldn’t last, and she crashes back to earth here. “Episode” shows us more of her home life than usual and adds depth to the Mark character. I enjoy the glimpse of the typically terrible humor thrown out by Room & Bored, and Valerie’s attempts to “rock out” at the concert also amuse. Add to that the sight of a marital spat fueled by Red Bull and the program works well.
Valerie Relaxes in Palm Springs: “Valerie and Mark head to the desert for a long weekend at a Palm Springs resort – with strings attached. While Mark (Damian Young) draws the line with Jane’s (Laura Silverman) crew on the golf course, Valerie finds a new mentor in an old acquaintance.”
The best parts of this episode come from the annoying Cadillac representative. The show doesn’t overuse him; instead, he pops up when you least expect him to irritate Val and Mark. The program amounts to a brief philosophical awakening for Valerie, as her earthy friend Donna almost gets Val to stop worrying about how the public perceives her. It won’t last, but this show’s a good change of pace, especially as it takes us away from the usual LA confines.
Valerie Hangs Out with the Cool Kids: “At the insistence of the network, Room & Bored gets a makeover and two new cast members, spurring talk of a coup by the ‘original five’. Valerie spends some quality time with her stepdaughter Francesca and her rotten little friends.”
Here’s what I haven’t understood about the series: it touts Room & Bored honchos Tom (Robert Bagnell) and Paulie G. as Emmy-winning Simpsons alumni wonderboys, so how come they churn out a show as crass and lame as R&B? So The Comeback can exploit its stupidity, I guess, and it does so especially well when Tom and Paulie bring in two terrible ethnic comedians as new cast members. Their routine is atrocious – and fits perfectly into the comedic mold of Balki from Perfect Strangers or Latka from Taxi.
The show also offers a perfect depiction of the complexities of Valerie. She tries so hard to make everyone happy while she also attempts to support her own career. On the surface, she seems self-serving, but I think she really does want to do right by others, so the episode’s twists make it tough for her. The only inevitable element is the outcome that bites her on the ass. She does get to finally stand up to that fat slob Paulie, though.
By the way, has a series ever featured a kid character as annoying as Francesca? She’s such a prematurely old little brat, and her act is irritating – though amusingly so. At least the episode gives Valerie a chance to show a moral side as she acts out against teen smoking and other abuses.
Valerie Gets a Magazine Cover: “With Juna getting all the hype and magazine covers, Valerie enlists a new publicist, Billy Stanton, to land her a cover. Billy scores her a shoot for Be Yoga, forcing Valerie to remodel her fitness room and take a yoga crash course.”
After all the high dramatics of the last episode, matters take a softer bent here. Unfortunately, that makes for a less than stellar program. Billy the occasionally violent publicist offers some laughs, and at least we get to see Juna topless again. Otherwise, this is a mediocre show.
Valerie Stands Out on the Red Carpet: “Valerie is pleased as spiked punch when Room & Bored gets nominated for a People’s Choice Award. After a rigorous fast and a painstaking wardrobe selection, Valerie is ready to make a big impact on the red carpet… if only the paparazzi will oblige.”
“Carpet” follows some predictable lines, but it does so in an amusing way. Matters go down an inevitable path as Valerie gets to fuzzy end of the lollipop once again. Nonetheless, we find more than a few funny bits, especially when Mickey throws out catty comments after Valerie has to jilt him for the ceremony.
Valerie Shines Under Stress: “Jane pulls rank on Tom and Paulie G. to get Valerie more lines on Room & 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.”
For the series’ penultimate show, Valerie gets good and angry. She finally really stands up to Paulie G in some funny bits. She also does a memorable version of “I Will Survive”. Add to that Juna in a whipped cream bikini and the program works.
Valerie Does Another Classic Leno: “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. Valerie Cherish’s ‘comeback’ appears to be official… could she really be ‘it’ again?”
So here’s where The Comeback ends. “Leno” wasn’t intended as a series finale, but it works well in that regard. We get Valerie angrier than ever, but the lust for fame overcomes any bitterness. “Leno” finished matters on a good note.
Did The Comeback die before its time? Probably, though we’ll never know since we didn’t see the programs. I like the series quite a lot and would have enjoyed more time with the characters. I think another season would have let them expand and grow in entertaining ways.
That said, there’s a certain symmetry about the one season that seems satisfying. It ends on a very logical note as Valerie finds herself a star again. That really finishes her arc in regard to the series’ premise, so I would fear that a second – or third, or whatever – season would feel redundant.
While I would have welcomed another year, I won’t cry too much, as at least The Comeback didn’t wear out its welcome. It concludes in an appropriate way and proves to be a terrific little series.