Network Jizz: ‘The Comeback’ // “Valerie Is Brought To Her Knees”

COMEBACK-VALERIE-CHERISH-TRACK-SUIT“I got you, Gingersnaps.”

“Valerie Is Brought To Her Knees” introduces us to “Mallory,” the not-so-thinly veiled character Valerie is playing “loosely” based on her time on Room & Bored. She’s got a stinky trailer Mickey can’t stop talking about and can’t remember the first AD’s name because there “no reference point.” She spars with the line producer over the $7,000 wig that looks identical to her actual hair and the fact that she needs an extra hair person (Marianina!) just to place it on her head properly. And her nephew Tyler is such a bad PA that he doesn’t even know what a PA is, and Jane refuses to acknowledge him as part of the crew.

And then Valerie meets Seth Rogen, her co-star, and sets to work trying to make him her new BFF.

As usual, Val has a bad habit of over-gifting. She not only buys flowers for Seth (“MacFarlane,” as she calls him, not long after spilling water all over him), but also gifts him with a ham based on an off-the-cuff joke he barely even remembers. And she gets an awkwardly sweet gift for Paulie G that causes one of the episode’s most uncomfortable moments. Lots of shows these days do awkward comedy, but it’s rarely as painful as this. Val has made a nice gesture, but probably the wrong gesture, and she discovers it at an opportune moment as Paulie G just stares at her in befuddled silence. Fortunately, Seth Rogen jumps in to make a joke of it and lighten the tension, but if ever we needed confirmation, here it is: Paulie G is still a jerk. THE-COMEBACK-LANCE-BARBER-PAULIE-G-JERKCase in point: he has written a fantasy scene in which Valerie blows him, for no good reason except to literally bring the redhead comedienne to her knees. That’s the major focus of this episode (and the title’s inspiration), which takes the gag to an extreme by quite rightly pointing out how exploitative Hollywood is of women. In the truly unsettling fantasy sequence, Val has to stand still between two buck naked, fully-shaved porn stars who are moaning in orgasmic ecstasy, and just to add insult to injury, she’s back in Aunt Sassy’s running suit during the whole thing. The fact that Paulie G would even write such a thing tells us everything we need to know about how much he hasn’t evolved in his sobriety, yet there are plenty of writers just like Paulie G out there who would write the exact same thing.

It’s also another token of HBO’s willingness to take jabs at itself. We, like Jane, feel uncomfortable about how the women in this episode are treated, but it’s not a lot different from the double standard we see on so much of HBO’s programming, from The Sopranos to Game Of Thrones. Leave it to The Comeback, one of the network’s most frivolous and least lauded shows, to finally stick it to ’em. That’s why I love The Comeback — because between the laughs, it aims for the bull’s eye with deadly precision. It’s merciless, biting the hand that feeds it with tongue-in-cheek. (30 Rock similarly lambasted NBC. May I suggest Season Three centers on Tina Fey creating a network sitcom for Valerie Cherish?) COMEBACK-VAERIE-CHERISH-SETH-ROGEN-LISA-KUDROWIt’s somewhat predictable that Seth Rogen would be the one to suggest to Paulie G that Val discreetly duck out of the frame rather than exaggeratedly mime fellatio — Seth Rogen is playing himself, and Seth Rogen probably does not want to tarnish himself by looking like a jerk on The Comeback. But when he tosses it aside with an, “I got you, Gingersnaps,” it’s a genuinely touching moment that truly does endear us to him. Because any show can do awkward comedy, but not many pull off the rare triumphant moments when Valerie really does rise above the Hollywood muck she’s wading in. This is one of the most blatantly demeaning positions Val’s been in, and therefore, she’s earned the tiny vindication that comes at the end of the episode, even if it somewhat bucks The Comeback‘s tradition of not providing any easy outs or out-and-out happy endings.

“Valerie Is Brought To Her Knees” is the new season’s strongest episode yet, because it is the first episode more concerned with moving the story forward rather than taking a nostalgic look back at Season One highlights. I like looking back, too, but I also want The Comeback to tackle new territories, and “Valerie Is Brought To Her Knees” does it. I can’t think of any TV show that has made a sharper or more direct critique of the way women are objectified in TV and film (especially on premium cable). There is a maybe-unnecessary (but totally in character) moment in which Jane tries to stop filming because she feels this wrong, but otherwise, no one needs to come out and say that Paulie G’s script is pretty fucked up. It’s obvious. This episode also features fewer callbacks to old jokes and instead brings us all new ones, which somehow made me feel like I was watching classic Season One Comeback than either of the previous episodes. COMEBACK-TYLER-MARK-L-YOUNG-HBOIt’s odd to see someone as famous as Seth Rogen on The Comeback playing himself. I’m not sure that Rogen’s Apatowian comedic universe quite aligns with the awkward orbit of Valerie Cherish, who exists on a planet of her own most of the time. Rogen has practically made a career out of playing himself at this point, often quite literally, and his presence naturally requires a certain pull of focus away from Valerie. (You don’t hire Seth Rogen to not do Seth Rogen.) But Rogen’s This Is The End self-referential comedic stylings aren’t of quite the same brand as Lisa Kudrow’s meta-comedy. Ultimately, it works, though I hope Rogen is used sparingly from here on out, merely because The Comeback is The Valerie Cherish Show, and having a good-natured movie star there to bail Red out of jams isn’t how this show operates.

I’d rather see more of Valerie’s interactions with the vapid bimbo who plays Juna (or April, based on Juna), who is exactly the sort of snob ingenue we thought Juna would be in the first season. More of Jane, now an Oscar winner who feels less of a need to hold her tongue and stay out of it. And more of Paulie G, who thinks he has written a soul-baring confessional that is probably just misogynist tripe like his sitcom. (We get some pretty awesome barely-bad dialogue from Seeing Red, like “Why don’t you put up a sign that says, ‘Watch out for falling lamps!'” His writing has evolved, but barely.)THE-COMEBACK-ABIGAIL-KLEIN-ASHLEY-LISA-KUDROWValerie is still a pest in this episode, which is how we can’t totally fault Paulie G for mocking her when she insists on reminding everyone that she did not actually blow Paulie G. She tries her best to keep up with Seth Rogen’s “network jizz” improv. (Meanwhile, the script supervisor needs to make sure Val knows that she switched the interchangeable “keep out” and “stay out” in her own dialogue.) At one point, she reverts back to her sitcom roots by playing directly to the camera. Valerie has come a long way since the first season, yet that “long way” has brought her literally to her knees to perform oral sex on Seth Rogen. (Her previous attempts at stepping out of her comfort zone had her making out with Alan Thicke and playing a brunette with migraines.)

The episode is full of priceless moments, from Val doing her trademark schtick (“Hi, Simpsons? We want to shoot drugs in front of your characters!”) to Mickey defiantly telling the props guy that Val doesn’t need knee pads. Val’s straight-to-camera “Walk? It’s been a long day! Why don’t you just rape me?” is like her HBO version of a Room & Bored blow, and it fails spectacularly.

As much as I loved getting reacquainted with Jane, Mickey, Juna, and yes, even Paulie G in the first two episodes, this is the one that gives me full confidence in The Comeback‘s new season. I hope HBO has the good sense (and sense of humor) to keep it running longer than just this second season, but even if not, this episode alone has made its resurrection worth the effort. Valerie Cherish is back in full glory, everyone — which, in her case, is a lot more shameful and embarrassing than glorious.

“Valerie Is Brought To Her Knees”: A

COMEBACK-PORN-STARS-NAKED-NUDE-FULL-FRONTAL-VALERIE-CHERISH*

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