“That’s a cautionary tale, huh? That’s what happens, though, you know, when you make show business your whole life, right? You know? Next thing you know, you’re eating kale chips out of a shopping cart.”
The Comeback has had a rather dark streak the past few episodes, touching on misogyny, suicide, cancer, and explosive anger stemming from a deep well of unhappiness in several of these characters who’ve had their showbiz dreams dashed to pieces. “Valerie Cooks In The Desert” lightens up a smidge, although there’s a rather grim interlude in the middle (also involving shattered illusions).
The episode begins with Val glowing from her (first ever?) positive reviews — The New York Times has praised the performances in Seeing Red, though Paulie G’s writing gets disparaged. Marky Mark is less a fan of Valerie Cherish at the moment, since her re-shoots are getting in the way of their dinner at Nobu, not to mention tearing up the floors in their home. As foreshadowed in previous episodes, when Mark got so fed-up with Val’s production(s) that he defected to a rental home, there’s serious trouble in paradise between Mr. and Mrs. Cherish. (Valerie’s maid, Esperanza, on the other hand, is finally easing up in front of the cameras — or at least trying to, doing a stiff variation on the sassy housekeeper stereotype she thinks viewers will buy into. Let’s just say it needs work.)Mark and Val’s home being tarnished by production is an apt metaphor for the damage it’s done to their marriage. Valerie spends this whole episode trying to repair what’s broken, making a big gesture of cooking dinner for her man as an excuse for why she wants to wrap up her portion of production; unfortunately, no one else gets why this is such a big deal, because an average wife would be making meals for her mister on the regular. Paulie G has yet another freakout at Val when she suggests that the reviews for the Seeing Red premiere were mixed, which sends him into retreat mode as he tries to punch up the final episode, leading to further delays. Whereas Val once lived to be in front of the cameras, here she just wants it to be over.
Valerie is beckoned to the desert, where reshoots have her filming an insane kidnapping sequence in the trunk of a car, co-starring a bunch of snakes, with her mouth taped shut (a dream come true for Paulie G, surely). Meanwhile, Paulie G attempts to crank out pages, taking a break for a massage that Val bursts in on in an attempted drug bust, thanks to Tyler’s guess that he’s shooting up in there. (“You’re not a writer!” Val accuses of Tyler’s storytelling.) The heat is getting to everyone, which leads Valerie to display her diva actress side in an interaction with Ron and Shayla that ends with Val on the receiving end of “the middle finger” from the wheelchair-bound line producer. It’s never good to be flipped off by a guy in a wheelchair.Predictably, Valerie doesn’t make it out of the desert until well into the evening, stopping by Mark’s rental house to leave dinner at the door because he’ll be too mad to let her in. (Aww. You can tell Jane really feels for her in this one.) A well-intentioned “pebble” thrown at the bedroom window changes that when it smashes the glass and rouses Mark from bed. (“So cute!” Val says, moments before we hear glass breaking.) Mark lets Val in with her dinner (partially eaten by dogs Valerie mistakes for coyotes), but it’s clear that this relationship is in jeopardy, especially once we learn that Mark has “plans” with the woman he rented the house from. He’s enjoying his bachelor pad a bit too much, it seems, while his wife has forsaken him for the former heroin addict who was at one time her biggest nemesis.
“Valerie Cooks In The Desert” doesn’t introduce any new ideas. It pushes forward storylines that have been simmering for a while now. Mostly, the rockiness of Val and Mark’s marriage now that the cameras are back, but also Mickey’s illness and Paulie G’s continual spiral toward relapse. We already knew that Valerie was getting a good review from the Times. Val’s sparring with Ron and Shayla isn’t new, either — it’s just that here, it reaches a boiling point.
“Valerie Cooks In The Desert” has plenty of amusing throwaway comedy. Mickey has a gross-out moment when Rada stops by and he can’t make it all the way to the outside bathroom — apparently, his medication has led to some rather explosive moments on the toilet (and we have a remix of Season One’s similar gag, when it was Mark on the porcelain throne during one of Val’s confessionals). Valerie riffs on an old Wendy’s commercial, asking “Where’s the meat?” and announcing “Here’s the beef!” (Both wrong.) Mickey makes a rather lewd comment about how much fun one can have with beef (even I’m not sure what exactly he means). Valerie’s quip about the dragons on Game Of Thrones not being real as a live snake is locked in the trunk with her is also a winner, though Billy’s Orange Is The New Black reference goes over her head. (“Now you’re just saying colors!”) Val may be hip to HBO now, but she’s not caught up with Netflix.So it’s official — Valerie has gotten the acclaim she’s always wanted, but it hasn’t really gone to her head because she never noticed that she wasn’t acclaimed before. Sure, Valerie is more uppity here than usual, trying to use her good review to earn her a table at Nobu, but is that really because she’s gotten good notes from The New York Times? Or is it because the demands of the Seeing Red crew are pretty unreasonable? It’s hard to imagine Seth Rogen being asked to wait around in sweltering heat, locked in a trunk with a snake. Val has met success in the entertainment industry at last, but that’s not always all it’s cracked up to be.
As Mickey grows less and less able to keep up with Red’s heavy production schedule, and Mark is less and less willing to let showbiz become the mistress in their marriage, it seems we soon may see Valerie Cherish faced with a choice: her personal life, or her dreams of fame and adulation? This becomes clearest in the episode’s centerpiece scene, when Valerie runs into good ol’ Gigi at the supermarket.
Gigi was one of many highlights in Season One — the lone female writer Valerie took under her wing (for mostly selfish reasons). Gigi had a bad habit of eating her feelings and frequently burst into tears when things didn’t go her way (which was always). In many moments, she was even more pathetic than Valerie. And not much has changed. Gigi has gained a significant amount of weight (even Mickey makes a catty comment about it!). When we re-meet her, she’s munching on a bag of kale chips. She also looks like she’s aged about thirty years.Valerie observes with embarrassed pity as Gigi claims to be living it up as a writer on Pretty Little Liars and expectant (adoptive) mother… before collapsing into sobs as she explains that she owns four empty homes, doesn’t get along with her co-workers, can’t get enough time off work for a root canal, and even hates her bitch of a dog-walker. She, too, had a dream of having a show on HBO, except unlike Val and Paulie G, she never made it. (They picked up Girls instead — ironically, also about a less-than-svelte lady who is fond of snacking.) Gigi’s in the same camp we learned Tom was in last week — technically successful, but hating every minute of it. Once again, Valerie Cherish is one of the unlikely lucky ones to come out of the Room And Bored debacle.
Valerie doesn’t offer to heal Gigi’s wounds this time around — how could she? Gigi’s personal damages may be beyond repair at this point, and Valerie is only one woman. She doesn’t have a lot of pull at HBO. But she does see a lesson about the dark side of success — and the dangers of being a single woman who only has “the business” to keep her warm at night, for Hollywood is a fickle lover. Valerie may be having fifteen more minutes of fame at the moment, but how long will that last? Is it worth sacrificing her marriage for? Aside from sharing some laughs with director Andie (who returns, with more bonkers dance references) and Seth Rogen (absent in this episode), Valerie hasn’t made any new friends despite her newfound success — and as of this episode, she’s clearly made a few enemies.
Valerie now has more or less what she always wanted — but how bad does she really want it? Bad enough to sabotage her own marriage, bad enough to leave Mickey behind in the dust? Stay tuned — there’s just two episodes left of The Comeback‘s second season! (And that just might be all we get, thanks to poor ratings. Television is a cruel mistress, indeed.)
“Valerie Cooks In The Desert”: B+