Upon seeing the DVD, I was blown away by The Comeback, Lisa Kudrow’s short-lived series for HBO. In short, it’s hilarious but more than that, it’s clever. Kudrow plays Valerie Cherish, a faded comedic actress from the late ’80s and early ’90s who has slipped from the limelight and is now trying to claw her way back to fame and popularity.
The show we see comprises ‘raw footage’ taken from the fictional reality show The Comeback, which follows Valerie around on her day-to-day life as she takes a role on a new sitcom, Room and Bored. So really, it’s a show-within-a-show-(within-a-show) format; sounds quite complicated, but it makes sense when you see it. Since it is ‘raw footage,’ it is never as simple as a glossy look at the end product of a reality TV show – there are plenty of camera and “off-camera” asides, with Cherish regularly telling her producer Jane to not use parts of the footage in the final edit.
As such, it is a rather biting satire on reality TV – and an extraordinarily well-judged and perfectly-crafted one. Kudrow knows her stuff from having starred on Friends for a decade, and brings all that insider knowledge to the table in The Comeback. So, we see Valerie desperately trying to garner more lines for herself in the new sitcom Room and Bored, trying to win the popularity of the cast and crew, trying to win magazine covers and shine on the red carpet etc. But the writing and Kudrow’s performance is so strong and multi-layered that Valerie is never one-dimensional, the storylines are not predictable, and there is real heart to the show which is perhaps surprising in a satire like this.
The supporting cast is fantastic, and the entire show is pleasingly realistic and always thoroughly entertaining. It’s not a straightforward comedy by any means – certainly do not expect anything like Friends – but it would be a real shame if you missed something as clever and intricate and finely-detailed as The Comeback (not to mention a truly superb performance from Kudrow throughout.) It’s also a real shame that the show did not really take off on its original run in 2005, perhaps because the reality TV Kudrow was satirising was still so popular at that stage. Six years on, its reputation seems to be growing, rightfully so, and it’s the sort of show that rewards repeated viewing and stands up to that repeated viewing too (for all its cringiness too!)
I would heartily recommend The Comeback for both comedy and TV fans in general; it’s eye-opening on one hand, true, but thoroughly entertaining and engaging with it too. It goes without saying that it’s by far the best project taken on by any of the lead Friends actors since the show, but really it stands far apart from Friends in tone and style – and the fact that Kudrow pulled it off so marvellously is one of the many commendable things about it. Not to be missed.