The Comeback of 'The Comeback'
Alston, Joshua, Newsweek
Byline: Joshua Alston
There's no more hollow an artistic victory than to be considered ahead of one's time. It's poetic and it dulls the pain of failure a little, but it's the Siberian gale of cold comfort. Yet as cable networks buy up "brilliant but canceled" programs, shows that were misunderstood in their time are getting a second bite of the apple. The most conspicuous comeback of late belongs to the Sundance Channel and The Comeback, the most incisive, hilarious, and delightfully savage takedown of reality television ever made. It's a shame it appeared way before audiences were ready for it.
The show, which originally ran on HBO in 2005, starred Lisa Kudrow as Valerie Cherish, a washed-up comedian equally in need of a new hit and a massive injection of self-awareness. She's most famous for I'm It!--a rickety old sitcom about a law firm that was canceled just three episodes shy of syndication. In an example of her obliviousness, Valerie thinks the show was axed because of an insensitive joke about Rodney King, as opposed to, say, the fact that a chimpanzee had started working as a lawyer at the show's firm. Now she's angling for a return to the spotlight as the star of a transparently insipid sitcom called Room and Bored, though it comes with a catch. She must also star in a behind-the-scenes reality show that will document her journey back.
When it debuted, the meta-ness of The Comeback was part of the problem. As a satire about the vapidity of reality television, it was acute but too insidery. Each episode is presented as raw footage from the reality show, freighting every scene with production jargon and Hollywood winks (sitcom-directing superstar James Burrows even makes a four-episode cameo). It was also too early of a tackle. The Comeback tore down the tropes and trickery of a television genre still in the midst of its heyday. Moreover, it was the first project Michael Patrick King took on following his success as executive producer of Sex and the City. …