The Comeback: “Valerie is Brought to Her Knees” Season 2 Episode 3 Review

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Now that’s more like it. Seth Rogen arrives, playing himself, for the first episode of The Comeback‘s second chance that makes it feel like it deserved one in the first place.

While the first two episodes largely dealt with Valerie’s casting in Paulie G.’s new HBO show Seeing Red, this entry finally got us on set. Suddenly, The Comeback is as good as it ever was.

The genius of Valerie is Brought to Her Knees is the same genius this show has always had at its best: critiquing the television industry. While Season 1 focused on the networks and the reality TV boom, that was back in 2005. TV has evolved since then and HBO led the charge with innovative and groundbreaking shows.

The title of the episode refers to a fantasy sequence Paulie G. wrote for the show in which Valerie gives him a blow job. Seth Rogen is playing the fictional version of Paulie G., and Rogen’s experience on tons of movie sets and his generally mellow demeanor are going to come in handy as the first couple sparks between Valerie and her former nemesis start to ignite.

Cringe-worthy moments come flying when Valerie first meets Seth and an awkward back-and-forth involving ham takes place. Barely 20 minutes later, Valerie presents her co-star with a ham with a ribbon on it. Rogen plays the scene perfectly, clearly being uncomfortable but avoiding any awkwardness with that legendary laugh of his. Val has a gift for Paulie G. too, a leather-bound book meant to hold scripts that says “Director” in gold on the bottom. Valerie’s gestures tend to be a little too much in an uncomfortable way, but this was just genuinely sweet.

Which makes the way Paulie G. treats her on set all the more difficult to watch. Little details like “Valerie, on your mark please” show us that Paulie G. still isn’t the best at dealing with Valerie. She can sure be a handful, needing direction on every line, but there’s a subtle lack of professionalism in the way he talks to her. This is the type of storytelling that can resurrect a show after nine years. And it only gets better from there.

The first piece of the blow job scene filmed has Valerie standing between two young naked women. Jane whispers to her that she’s uncomfortable filming this, as she finds it exploitative. That’s before Paulie G. asks the women to start making orgasm noises. Now it’s especially interesting that Seeing Red is on HBO, whose own Game of Thrones has come under scrutiny for having a very uneven ration of female nudity to male nudity.

Next comes the blow job scene. Seth picks up on Valerie’s hesitations to do the scene, as she keeps mentioning how she never blew Paulie G. Things get worse when the writer tells Valerie that the inspiration for the scene came from Paulie G. wanting to tell Val to blow him whenever she asked about her lines on the set of Room & Bored. The scene is meant to be degrading to her. Paulie’s direction to Seth is to have his hands forcefully pushing Valerie’s head into his crotch. But Seth finds a way to have the scene where Valerie doesn’t even have to be in the shot, making things a little less misogynistic. I like that The Comeback is using Seth Rogen as a middle-man between the extremes that are Valerie and Paulie G.

The episode ends on a tight shot on Valerie’s face, similar to the one on Seth Rogen at that very same moment for Seeing Red. She looks like she doesn’t know what to do with herself and then she smiles, blissfully unaware of the deeper implications this episode brought on of what kind of show Seeing Red is going to be. But Jane seems to have an idea, as does Seth Rogen. Valerie may be ignorant to how she’s being used, but The Comeback itself isn’t. This series was hailed as ahead of its time nine years ago for taking down reality TV at the height of its popularity. Valerie is Brought to Her Knees once again leaps forward, showing us what’s wrong with this golden age of scripted television while people still adore shows that exploit women. This is the Comeback we’ve been waiting for. Grade: A

By Matt Dougherty

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