Free-floating contempt pervades Comeback, Lisa Kudrow’s faux-reality series in which she plays faded TV star Valerie Cherish. The HBO show disdains not just its main character — a fortysomething actress who was once the popular lead of an average sitcom called I’m It! — but anybody who’d watch an average sitcom or have any fondness for an actress in one. ”It means a lot to me because it’s from the people,” Valerie says of her People’s Choice award, and you can hear the subtext: By people, we mean idiots.
Kudrow and her cocreator, Sex and the City executive producer Michael Patrick King, heap humiliations on Valerie, who Kudrow plays with her usual honks and tics, plus bad hair. Valerie is participating in a reality show called The Comeback, which documents her return to the tube — she’s playing one of four beach-house roomies in a new sitcom. (The whole series is shot from the POV of the reality show’s cameras.) Her role is soon refashioned around the younger women: She becomes wacky landlord Aunt Sassy. The indignities suffered by Valerie are cringy but not very funny — the show strives for the precision awkwardness of The Office but settles for general peevishness. Moreover, while Valerie is a pain — a C-list diva who utters the mantra ”I need to know I’m being heard,” while ignoring everyone else — she’s hardly rotten enough to warrant the treatment she gets. (In a single episode, she’s ditched by her castmates, dissed by the network, and creepily threatened by one of the writers.)
The Comeback hates sitcoms so much that it either jarringly lampoons them (Valerie’s husband interrupts her confessional with some loud, grotesque toilet time) or mimics them to a fault (Valerie’s new signature line is the tedious ”I don’t need to see that!”). In the end, The Comeback is as trying as the genre it attempts to skewer.