At the “For Your Consideration” event for The Comeback this week, hosted by the Television Academy and E!’s Kristin Dos Santos in Los Angeles, producers and cast participated in a panel that led to a number of revelations for the audience. Here’s what we learned about HBO’s cult-hit favorite comedy from executive producer Michael Patrick King, Lisa Kudorw (Valerie Cherish), Lance Barber (Paulie G.), Robert Michael Morris (Mickey), Laura Silverman (Jane), and executive producer Dan Bucatinsky (Billy). [Warning: Contains season two spoilers.]
Kudrow and King revealed that HBO is happy to give them a season three should the duo choose to accept it. “As HBO goes, we’re part of their family; they said there’s an open door,” King explained. “They said, ‘We can’t imagine what you’d do next, but if you find something you want to do, yes.'”
The issue is that King and Kudrow aren’t sure of a story yet that would be worthy — and they wouldn’t want to phone it in. “Lisa and I are really figuring out what the journey would be,” King said. “Even in the first season, we put it all out there. We thought there would be a second season, but we don’t hold back… We wouldn’t want to disappoint anybody, including ourselves.”
Fingers crossed that they can figure out where to take Valerie after season two’s high-stake arcs about her marriage, Mickey’s cancer, and the Emmys.
“I’m glad that at the end, we established what I always thought, which is that [Valerie’s] a decent human being,” Kudrow admitted. “There is a human being in there. It’s just that when there’s a camera on her, that’s the most important thing.”
In spite of the pivotal evolution in the finale, King and Kudrow insisted that Valerie Cherish will always be Valerie Cherish (another ray of hope for a season three?). The best indication of that, according to the writers, occurred at the end of the season two finale when Mark asked Valerie, “Do you want to go to any of the Emmy parties?” and Valerie responded, “Have you met me?”
“Our whole idea is that people have what seem like gigantic, evolving moments, but it doesn’t last,” King said. “It’s a minuscule emotional thing. But you’re still you. Valerie’s is always going to be Valerie, whether there are cameras chasing her down the street or she’s by herself. She’s always going to want more.”
The Comeback really was ahead of its time with regard to reality television. In season one, King and Kudrow played with the idea of having Valerie visit a therapist with the cameras rolling, but they decided against it because, at the time, they figured no therapist would ever allow that.
“We were always calling bulls— on ourselves,” King explained. “If it wouldn’t happen, we couldn’t do it. It turns out the therapy cry scene is like Reality 104. You know you’re watching a reality show when someone’s in therapy, crying.”
Kudrow added, “I guess you can find a therapist who will have a camera on what’s supposed to be the most intimate, confidential [conversation].”
When the season two premiere featured a scene with Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump, King got to see first-hand how a reality star can play herself.
“It was scripted, but she knew exactly how to be the Lisa Vanderpump that we wrote and seem real — even though every single word that she was saying, Lisa and I wrote,” King said, laughing. “So to me, I was like, ‘Wow, they’re cagey.'”
For Kudrow the revelation was that reality stars really are playing characters. “We also knew one of the producers of one the Housewives shows and we had heard how the night after their show aired, one of the ‘cast’ called up and complained how she didn’t like what they did with her ‘character,'” Kudrow detailed. “And when I heard that, I thought, ‘Your character has your name, your address, your children… That’s not a ‘character,’ is it?’ Yeah, it is.”
Jane… Jane… Jane!
The producer of the reality show within The Comeback, Jane Benson (Laura Silverman), became an even more prevalent character in season two, and the reason is grounded in reality (television).
“The reason that we felt so comfortable letting Jane be so visible is that we found out that on The Real World, they are so hip to the fact that it’s a reality show, that now nobody believes it’s real,” King explained. “The new dimension is that the kids are talking to the producers on camera, so that gave us permission to really start to push Jane into the show more and feel like, ‘That’s what’s happening.'”
It also helped that Silverman doesn’t seem like she’s acting. In fact, King and Kudrow didn’t even give her direction. “She just is truthful,” King told the audience. “So we said, ‘Plug that back in.'”
We all know that Valerie is guilty of vanity — she never leaves the house without a personal hairdresser — but it was surprising to learn that Kudrow, whose performance is so raw, is self-conscious too.
“I’m not ego-free,” Kudrow admitted, before turning to King and asking him how she looked that evening. Not only was Valerie self-conscious in her bodysuit in the episode “The Green Monster,” but Kudrow was also. “You’re going to show me?” the actress reenacted for the panel. “The whole thing? Really?”
In true anti-Valerie, self-effacing form, Kudrow elaborated, “You’re playing a different character altogether… The things that I’m concerned about looking bad are more, ‘Does it look so bad that it’s going to be distracting to the audience?’ I don’t want to be distracting to the audience.”
“She might not be ego-free,” King added, “but she’s definitely ego-reasonable.”
“We could never have predicted the cringe factor of the first season,” said executive producer Dan Bucatinsky, who also plays Valerie’s publicist Billy Stanton. “To us, we were like, ‘This is a woman who has a great marriage and does really well and always lands on her feet — we should be admiring her. She’s so strong. And people just couldn’t — whether it was because it was a woman, or whether it was because of Lisa’s vulnerability.”
When The Comeback first aired in 2005, the main criticism was that the show was hard to watch. King remembered how throughout season one, ‘cringe-worthy’ was a judgement. “The second season though,” King said, “People were like, ‘Yeah! It’s still cringe-worthy!’ They wanted it to be that.”
Kudrow is proud that The Comeback elicits such a strong reaction from viewers. “I have to say that in that first season, what I was really proud of was that there was a show where people had to cover their eyes, or watch from the doorway of another room, and there’s not one graphic violent scene or a graphic sex scene in it.”
For a show that feels so real, it’s easy to assume that the actors are improvising most of the time, but Kudrow and King are truly specific in their writing — the weirdest part of it being that Kudrow has to memorize all of the lines she’s already written for herself, down the to most specific prepositions and articles. “Then there’s spontaneity within it,” King explained.
For instance, it’s very important to the producers that situations feel real enough that the actors have authentic reactions to the details of an extra walking between two people talking — or when the landlady in season two’s episode, “Valerie Saves the Show,” erupts into the longest, most awkward yawn.
“It really only works if we’re all addressing what’s really happening and I think we all do that,” Kudrow clarified. “Because you don’t know when the camera’s on you exactly, so everyone is just in the scene, in character, until you hear, ‘Cut.'”
As for the landlady, Mrs. Yi (Akiko Kato), King hilariously defined her as “a real person who decided to act… She had taken enough classes to act, but not enough to be an actor.” During the yawn, Kudrow actually wondered if the woman was alright — while the entire set rolled with laughter.
Valerie had to make the hardest decision of her life in the season two finale — stay at the Emmys or visit Mickey (Robert Michael Morris) in the hospital. Of course, there was nothing to debate. Valerie did the right thing.
The Comeback producers felt that not even Valerie would bring her camera crew into hospital, and so they had to make the creative decision to have her ditch the cameras and flip the switch from reality show to movie.
One issue they had to address was the musical score. ‘We thought it was going to have a soundtrack and we had a wonderful composer create two different soundtracks,” King remembered. “Every time we put it on the footage, we rejected it. Basically, the show rejected it, and we realized the reason was because The Comeback never tells you what to feel and music does… There’s no music in any of The Comeback episodes. None. Until the very credits roll and we always do that as a sort of release for the audience.”