When HBO’s The Comeback premiered in 2005, it was simply ahead of its time: The story of a has-been Hollywood actress named Valerie Cherish who’s trying to regain her moment in the spotlight by starring in a reality TV show. Never mind that it starred a fresh-off-of-Friends Lisa Kudrow and was co-created by Sex and the City‘s executive producer Michael Patrick King; audiences weren’t ready to dig in to a dark cringe-comedy with this much showbiz cringe, told in the mockumentary style that, just a few years later, would practically become the norm for single-camera sitcoms. In the pre-Real Housewives era of reality shows, Cherish’s desperation reeked like a stinkbomb. The cable network gave it a single season and didn’t invite it back for seconds.
Until now, that is. Whether we’ve all simply become comfortable with the idea of celebrity humiliation as a comic spectator sport on TV or the time was simply ripe for the show’s particular flavor of acidic satire, HBO signed off on Kudrow and King bringing The Comeback back for another pomo go-round starting Sunday, November 9th. Nine years after we last saw Cherish chuck her dignity in the name of 15 more minutes of fame, she’s back, making it big by reading for a part on (wait for it) an HBO show. And though Kudrow hasn’t exactly been M.I.A. — her Showtime series Web Therapy is still going strong in its fourth season, and she’s played supporting parts in movies like Easy A (2010) and Neighbors (2014) — these new Comeback episodes make us realize that she’s never better than when she’s got her comedic claws out. Welcome back, Valerie Cherish.
Did you ever think you’d get to resurrect The Comeback a decade later?
No, I never thought I’d be able to revisit the project ever. Michael Patrick King and I had tossed around the idea of maybe making a movie, but then we’d have to ask HBO and if they said “No,” I don’t know if I could survive that. It’s like asking a guy that broke up with you, after running into him, “Do you want to get back together?” God, no. But the people at HBO were picking up on something, so they came to us said: “We think people like Valerie Cherish and wouldn’t mind seeing her again.” I really did feel that because we were on HBO, there would be another season [eventually].
Would you have proceeded with the second season if you couldn’t get the original cast back?
I think we would’ve figured out a way. But that was the first thing we said: “Okay, here’s a list of people that were here before; let’s find out if they’re available.”
How did you originally come up with the character of Valerie?
The voice and phoniness of that person was from a character monologue I did at the improv company I was part of — the Groundlings — called “Your Favorite Actress on a Talk Show.” It was about how she tried to spin everything to make it seem flattering when it wasn’t, and thinking she was so persuasive with an adoring audience that would just follow everything she said.
But it was more a response to Survivor and The Amazing Race; I couldn’t believe people were doing stuff that was being broadcast on national television. To me it was shocking in a horrible way, as if people don’t have any dignity anymore. Like, really? Fame is worth that? It’s your real name; it’s who you are! There was no personal integrity, social norms. So I thought it would be funny if there was this phony-baloney actress who was so desperate to be in the spotlight that she agrees to be on a reality show called The Comeback. The cameras would just follow her around while she’s on a brand new sitcom. It was the barest seed of an idea.