HBOs comic faux reality show The Comeback aired its season finale last night, capping an 8-episode run that many thought would never happen. But HBO delivered, and patient viewers were rewarded with an emotionally raw and rewarding hour-long farewell to star Lisa Kudrow’s Valerie Cherish.
This second season kicked off in high meta fashion with Valerie initially fighting HBO’s developing mini “Seeing Red,” a comic exposé about Valerie’s last comeback attempt – “Room and Bored” – penned by her sexist, drug-addict nemesis Paulie G (Lance Barber). Through an extremely funny (and uncomfortable) series of events, she auditions for and wins the role based on Paulie G’s memories of her. All of this is filmed by the seldom-seen documentarian Jane (Laura Silverman).
Naturally, Valerie is forced through a series of humiliating circumstances as she continues to stress the differences between her personality, her public persona she’s constantly offering up for the camera crew, and Paulie G’s offensive and sexist vision of her.
The most interesting arcs of the season dealt with Valerie and the two men in her life: her husband Mark (Damian Young) and her hairdresser Mickey (the Emmy-worthy Robert Michael Morris). Woven into season two are several critical moments where Valerie’s career choices are at odds with her personal life. Mark’s legendary patience in season one is sorely tested in season two as she offers up their home for a filming location, effectively driving him from the house to a rental property in the Pacific Palisades. Divorce looms heavily toward the end of the series as a brutal fight is captured by TMZ outside of a restaurant.
With Mickey, Valerie’s dogged optimism and positivity purposefully overshadows his dire cancer diagnosis. As he continues to deteriorate through the season, she doesn’t as much ignore his condition as refuse to acknowledge his mortality.
All of this converges in the season finale where Valerie, ultimately nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy at the Emmys, must choose between her career and her personal life. Of course, her personal life runs in dramatic highs and lows with her husband refusing to return her calls, a clogged sewer line rupturing at her home filling her garage with fecal matter, and a costar from her past (Kellan Lutz) making unsuccessful but most definitely welcome attempts to seduce her. Other friends from her past (Malin Akerman and James Burrows) offer their perspectives on her clashing career and personal life, setting up the climax of the episode.
At the beginning of the Emmy ceremony, Valerie receives a text from her estranged husband warning her that Mickey has collapsed and has been rushed to the hospital. Without further detail, Valerie decides to leave the ceremony, valuing her personal life over her professional life for the first time in the series.
Cutting away from the documentary style into a more standard approach, the series ends with Valerie watching the Emmys with a recovering Mickey on one arm and her pleasantly surprised and touched husband Mark on the other. She ultimately wins the Emmy, but the biggest triumph is the emotional impact of Valerie winning it all in the end – professionally and personally.
It was a fantastic way to end the second season as much of it had been extremely brutal against Valerie, satirizing her unwavering and unrealistic commitment to her professional career. I loved the maudlin and sentimental tact the show took at the end. It was sorely needed and was both emotionally resonant and satisfying.
As far as real-world Emmys, Kudrow shoots to the top of my list for comic actress kudos. The series could have simply rehashed her persona from the initial season, and fans would have been satisfied. Yet, Kudrow redefines the character of Valerie Cherish outside of her satire trappings. At the end, Valerie lets her defenses down and becomes a real person. It’s a welcome, brilliant, and breathtaking transformation that proves Kudrow’s underrated acting talents are as sharply honed as any Hollywood actress.
No follow-up season has been scheduled thus far, but Kudrow has indicated her willingness to tackle Valerie Cherish again. Given the growth and comic triumphs of the second season, it’s clear there is still plenty of mileage to cover with this character.
Perhaps she makes a foray into film…