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.”
Sure, we all start the fall TV season with good intentions, but with 100 shows premiering this fall, you’d have to be a human DVR to keep up. Besides, not every show (sorry, Manhattan Love Story) is necessarily worth the time investment. Here are the 16 best-reviewed shows of the fall — some new, some returning, all Certified Fresh — and where to watch them right now.
What It’s About: Annie (Casey Wilson) and Jake (Ken Marino) are a longtime couple who encounter a series of omens en route to the altar.
What Critics Think: Marry Me‘s premise may be simple, but the talents of stars Casey Wilson and Ken Marino — and a top-notch supporting cast — push it past other rom-coms.
What It’s About: In Bravo’s first scripted series, a famous self-help author (Lisa Edelstein) faces single life with the help of her divorced friends.
What Critics Think: Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce has a familiar Housewives feel, but it transcends genre tropes with Lisa Edelstein’s witty, hurt-filled performance — and a premise perfect for its network’s target demographic.
What It’s About: Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) takes a post as the CIA Station Chief in Kabul, where she quickly learns the high price of power.
What Critics Think: Homeland is back on top, with a renewed energy and focus not seen since its first season.
Where to Watch:
What It’s About: The ACN “News Night” team tries to stay afloat in the midst of bad ratings and hostile management.
What Critics Think: With an energetic new arc and deeper character development, The Newsroom finds itself rejuvenated in its third season — even if it still occasionally serves as a soapbox for creator Aaron Sorkin.
Where to Watch:
What It’s About: After a 10-year hiatus, Valerie Cherish (Lisa Kudrow) is back on reality TV, trying to jumpstart her career with a new Paulie G project.
What Critics Think: Substantially similar to its predecessor in all the best ways, The Comeback‘s resurrection thrives on Lisa Kudrow’s starring performance as Valerie Cherish.
Where to Watch:
What It’s About: A father (Anthony Anderson) worries that his four children are losing touch with their African-American identity by growing up in a mostly-white, wealthy neighborhood.
What Critics Think: Although it seems uncertain of its target audience, black-ish ingratiates with a diverse cast and engaging cultural issues.
What It’s About: Law professor Professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) entangles her students with a real-life application of her lesson plans.
What Critics Think: How to Get Away with Murder isn’t conceptually original, but it delivers thrills with melodramatic twists and a captivating lead.
What It’s About: A dark entity threatens the safety of townsfolk and carnival freaks alike in 1950s Florida.
What Critics Think: Though it may turn off new viewers unaccustomed to its unabashed weirdness, Freak Show still brings the thrills, thanks to its reliably stylish presentation and game cast.
What It’s About: In this Batman prequel set in the corruption of Gotham City, Detectives Jim Gordon (Benjamin McKenzie) and Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) investigate the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents.
What Critics Think: High production values, a talented cast, and an appealingly stylized approach to the Batman mythos help Gotham overcome its occasionally familiar themes.
What It’s About: The story of an extramarital affair between a Montauk waitress (Ruth Wilson) and a New York City novelist (Dominic West) unfolds through the subjective viewpoints of its two participants.
What Critics Think: Thanks to some smart, creative storytelling and spectacular performances, The Affair is a somber, bewitching exploration of truth and desire.
Where to Watch:
What It’s About: Eight years after the disappearance of his young son, Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) returns to France to uncover more clues.
What Critics Think: The Missing turns a common premise into a standout thriller with heartfelt, affecting performances.
Where to Watch:
What It’s About: After a freak explosion at S.T.A.R. Labs, scientist Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) develops superhuman speed.
What Critics Think: The Flash benefits from its purposefully light atmosphere, making it a superhero show uniquely geared toward genre fans as well as novices.
What It’s About: Rick and Co. find themselves in more post-apocalyptic zombie peril, as questions of right and wrong become even more complicated.
What Critics Think: Thanks to a liberal dose of propulsive, bloody action and enough compelling character moments to reward longtime fans, The Walking Dead‘s fifth season continues to deliver top-notch entertainment.
What It’s About: A patriarch of a well-to-do L.A. family (Jeffrey Tambor) comes out to his adult children as a woman named Maura.
What Critics Think: As much about a change in television as it is about personal change, Transparent raises the bar for programming with sophistication and sincere dedication to the human journey, warts and all.
Where to Watch:
What It’s About: After a shocking twist, Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) is back in the courtroom and contemplating her political future.
What Critics Think: Though in its sixth season, The Good Wife remains one of network television’s best shows with sharp writing, vibrant characters, and high production values.
What It’s About: A young woman (Gina Rodriguez) finds herself accidentally inseminated after a routine visit to the OB-GYN goes sideways.
What Critics Think: Jane the Virgin‘s dubious premise has become part of its unlikely charm — along with delightfully diverse writing and a knockout performance by Gina Rodriguez.
To prime yourself for season two of The Comeback, premiering on Nov. 9 at 10 pm on HBO, here’s what you need to know before spending a weekend with Aunt Sassy.
What’s the premise? A fading TV star (Lisa Kudrow) attempts to reboot her career with her own reality show.
What’s it like? One of the ultimate cringe comedies of the last decade, The Comeback shows what happens when a narcissist confronts irrelevance. Valerie Cherish, once a TV star on the fictitious 1990s sitcom “I’m It,” nabs a minor role as “Aunt Sassy” on the fake series Room and Bored — so long as she also lets cameras film her for a reality show called The Comeback at the same time. For Cherish, the humiliation of trying to fit in with a much younger, more popular cast is hard to watch at times, but also makes for some delicious satire. There’s nothing else really like The Comeback, which practically prophesied what was to come on reality TV when it first aired in 2005. It’s also a fine example of meta-television with one of the first-ever TV shows within a TV show within a TV show!
Where can I see it? The complete first season is available on DVD, HBO Go, HBO On Demand, Amazon Prime, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, iTunes, and Vudu. HBO2 will also air a marathon of the entire season on Nov. 8 from 10:30 am to 6 pm.
How long will it take? Season one of The Comeback is only 13 half-hour episodes, so you have plenty of time to catch up before season two. You may, however, need to take a few breaks to de-cringe from your binge.
What do the critics think? The Comeback was not overwhelmingly popular with critics in 2005, and at 46 percent on the Tomatometer, season one was rotten. Don’t let that deter you, however. Sal Cinquemani of Slant Magazine
wrote, “The Comeback quickly reveals itself to be not just a satire of the fickle, bottom-line-oriented sitcom world, but a depressing examination of sexism and ageism in Hollywood as a whole.” And Brian Lowry of Variety
lauded Lisa Kudrow (a 1990s sitcom star herself) in his fresh 2005 review, saying that “Kudrow is gifted and believable enough to sell Valerie as more than just her alter ego.” Years later, The Comeback has earned cult status and in 2012, the Guardian published an article in which Michael Hogan called the series “too far ahead of its time,” and Entertainment Weekly, in spite of having given it a rotten review in 2005, named The Comeback one of the 10 best TV shows of the decade in 2009.
Why should I watch this? Lisa Kudrow, who co-created the series, delivers a comedic tour de force with a performance so subtle that you forget she and Valerie Cherish are different people (Kudrow was nominated for an Emmy in 2006 for the role). Yes, there’s something sad about The Comeback, but the way Valerie Cherish acts self-conscious to the point of actually making herself look worse never fails to be funny. Also, Robert Michael Morris as Mickey the hairdresser, Malin Akerman as the new clueless “It” girl, and Damian Young as Valerie’s disinterested husband are hilarious. And don’t let the fact that The Comeback is 10 years old fool you; Valerie’s look was dated then too.
What’s my next step? Tina Fey’s 30 Rock is the next logical step, as are Ricky Gervais’s Extras and The Office. You should also check out HBO’s Hello Ladies, Family Tree, Veep, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. For movies, look no further than the filmography of Christopher Guest, especially This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, and For Your Consideration. Also, for fans of Kudrow since her Friends days, check out the Showtime series, Web Therapy, coming back for season four tonight at 11 pm.
Isn’t it time The Comeback made a comeback? Tell us why!
HBO’s new trailer for season two of The Comeback is out and we’ve got it here. The new season, which arrives nine years after season one, premieres on Sunday, Nov. 9 at 10 p.m.
Will you be watching season two of The Comeback? What do you think? Will it be as funny as season one?
At the movies this week, there’s an undercurrent of collectivism in the face of adversity. “The Brothers Grimm” features two con men in the 1700s who get in over their heads. In “The Cave,” a group of attractive spelunkers find some pretty scary stuff. And in “Undiscovered,” a bunch of aspiring artists deal with the pratfalls of climbing the celebrity ladder. What will the chorus of critics have to say?
In an age where remakes and rehashes reign supreme, it’s nice that Terry Gilliam remains as wildly imaginative as ever. But there’s a distinction between imagination and discipline; while Gilliam’s best work has tiptoed the line between the two, critics say his latest, “The Brothers Grimm,” is a muddle. The film stars Matt Damon and Heath Ledger as brothers and con men who spin tall tales for fun and profit. The scribes say that Gilliam needs to contain his wild flights of fancy, as there are many great ideas but nothing to unify them. At 37 percent on the Tomatometer, this is Gilliam’s worst reviewed film yet. But it’s not wrecking his Tomatometer average, which is solidly fresh at 80 percent. It’s also Matt Damon’s worst reviewd film since 2000’s “All the Pretty Horses,” which was sent to the glue factory with a 32 percent.
“The Cave” features a group of attractive spelunkers, an unknown species of monster, lots of rock climbing, and, naturally, the portal to Hell. Believe it or not, critics say the movie, starring Cole Hauser and Morris Chestnut, is a tad on the silly side. At 36 percent on the Tomatometer, things are looking dark for this “Cave.”
“Undiscovered” tells the story of some aspiring musicians and actresses hoping to make it. It’s such a completely original, daring idea that it’s surprising that Terry Gilliam didn’t write the screenplay. Critics are saying to leave this film, starring Kip Pardue, Pell James, and Ashlee Simpson, ahem, undiscovered. So far, it’s notching a big zero on the Tomatometer.
Most Recent Terry Gilliam Movies:
39% — Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
87% — 12 Monkeys (1995)
86% — The Fisher King (1991)
87% — The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
93% — Brazil (1985)