The Comeback: “Valerie Makes a Pilot” Season 2 Premiere Review

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It’s been a long nine years since we’ve heard Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow) delightfully say “I don’t need to see that!” Valerie’s on- and off-screen catch-phrase is uttered early in the come back of The Comeback, indicating that this star hasn’t changed one bit over the past decade.

Heralded as ahead of its time by many, the 2005 comedy was cancelled by HBO after a single season. The fact that we’re watching new episodes of The Comeback in 2014 is the type of television miracle that only a cult following can achieve.

We meet Valerie as the cameras turn on for another reality show. Jane and her professional film crew are long gone, replaced by students that clearly have no idea how to handle film equipment. A recurring joke of the premiere is one crew member repeatedly hitting people with the boom mic. When Valerie’s husband Mark (Damian Young) makes it known on camera that these crew got their “jobs” through nepotism, it seems Valeria has hit a new low.

As great as Kudrow is as Valerie, it’s something of a disservice to the first season to have her so desperate for more attention when she is even farther removed from the series than when it started. Granted, had the show’s second season aired in 2006, this likely would have been a nonissue. But this premiere doesn’t handle the awkward time gap as smoothly as it could have.

The first half or so is run by Valerie and her hair stylist Mickey (Robert Michael Morris resuming his scene-stealing role) just trying to get the dying star some more attention. They have a run in with Bravo’s Andy Cohen, playing himself, that proves that The Comeback still knows how to make things awkward.

Meanwhile, there’s rumblings of Valerie’s nemesis Paulie G. (Lance Barber) writing a series for HBO about his heroin-fueled time on Room & Bored, the fictional show-inside-a-show that was the basis of the 2005 season. This season’s show-inside-a-show is called Seeing Red, a HBO series where a sitcom writer has to deal with an aging actress that he doesn’t get along with names Mallory Church. Very meta.

Outraged, Valerie storms into the HBO offices only to find that they are already doing auditions. The premiere really picks up when Valerie and Paulie finally come face-to-face. Where Valerie hasn’t changed, it’s clear Paulie has. He’s clean and working with HBO. Things can’t get much better for him. His maturity in his scene with Valerie is staggering. He hugs her and fist bumps Mickey (whose reaction got an audible laugh out of me).

It turns out that Paulie actually tried to contact Valerie’s agent to have her read for the role. She gets a more dramatic monologue and pretty much nails it, something we rarely see from her. When she’s yelling at her audition, she’s really yelling at Paulie, which is the exact kind of true rage he and the HBO executives want for this role.

So she is offered the part and takes it, much to Mark’s disappointment. This is the type of half-victory that ended the first season, when her reality show was so outrageous that she was cheered on like it was her golden years on a Tonight Show appearance. Now she’s on an HBO show, but she’s playing an almost vilified version of herself.

Valerie Makes a Pilot wasn’t the best way for The Comeback to return, but many of the best bits of the first season were from the set of Room & Bored. I’m excited for her interactions with Paulie and whoever else gets cast in Seeing Red. This episode relied on Valerie being in the dumps, which means it can (hopefully) only go up from here. Grade: B

By Matt Dougherty

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