“The Comeback” is coming back. The cult favorite “comedy on the edge of tragedy” returns to HBO for an eight-episode run starting November 9. “It felt like going to an amusement park with my friends,” says the show’s co-creator, Michael Patrick King. “We went on a lot of rides.”
Why come back now, nine years later?
King: “The Comeback” energy started coming back before Lisa and I even consciously thought about coming back. There was an energy that started happening that was really sweet. Even though the show was removed from the air, it had actually started to catch on. Then all of a sudden, there was two Kickstarters, “Bring the Comeback back,” that we had nothing to do with. And we were like, we have to get off that! We can’t be asking people for money. We have money! And then we got a call from HBO: “We want to see Valerie again. What do you think?” And like the first time, we had this rush of an idea. We both thought we had something that would seem familiar enough and different enough to not feel like we were treading water. We wanted to risk something with Valerie.
TV has changed so much since we last saw Valerie.
King: What we always want to do with “The Comeback” is look at reality television and television overall. Then we started thinking, reality TV is done. People have died on reality TV, and the show has kept going. They’ve just cut them out. That’s so far past what we would have done! We literally had the idea nine years ago that it would be so great if Valerie went into therapy with cameras, and we thought that would never happen because it’s too far. Now it’s No. 5 on every reality show!
How did you get Seth Rogen to sign on?
King: What was really important for us was that we had a movie star to be part of the heroin that makes Valerie agree to do (the show within the show) and another reason to keep going forward. Seth Rogen would be the perfect example of who you would believe was hooked on heroin and also writing a sitcom. And he had to play himself. We didn’t want a fictional star. We wanted Seth Rogen to play Seth Rogen. It’s really important that everyone in “The Comeback” except for Valerie has to be not performing. And we got very blessed by three things. Lisa had done “Neighbors.” Seth was a fan of the original “Comeback.” And his manager used to represent me when I was an actor in my 20s in New York.
Any other surprise guest stars?
King: The really important thing is there’s no celebrity in the show who isn’t playing themselves. Because that wouldn’t be real. I don’t do Rob Lowe as the dietitian because that’s not what we’re trying to do. Regulars feel so real that that everyone who shows up — and there are a couple of big ones coming — are playing themselves. Chelsea (Handler)’s in one, Lisa Vanderpump. There are some other delicious little candies coming. (But) you don’t get bigger than Seth Rogen shooting up and getting a blow job.
Is that the new level of reality TV now, everyone playing themselves?
King: In “The Real World” this year, they’ve gone so far that now the producers are characters. The kids are talking to the producers on camera! Because everyone at home who watches “The Real World” doesn’t believe it’s reality TV. They know they’re filming a show. So now they’re leaving in scenes where the cast are talking to the cameramen and producers and saying, “I’ve gotta get out of here tonight.” In the Lindsay Lohan documentary, one of the main characters was the documentarian being interviewed about Lindsay, saying, “We can’t get in today because the schedule is all screwed up.” So that’s what opened up our permission to have more and more (the producer) Jane in it. When I saw that, I realized Jane can become a character.
Just how smart is Valerie?
King: That’s what’s really key to Lisa playing her, because Lisa is brilliant. There’s never a moment where the main character is off-camera. There’s no scene where anyone’s talking about her behind her back, where the audience knows more than she does. There are no answers for the audience. Lisa plays everything like she knows everything that’s going on. Everything negative that she hears, she chooses to spin it.
What notes did you get from HBO?
King: My experience with HBO vs. the networks is the networks are like a high school, and HBO is like a kid in high school who does independent study. In networks, you get, we think you’re going in the wrong direction. We don’t like this. That’s a D. That’s an A. HBO, it’s like, here’s your homework assignment. Create eight episodes. You’re either going to pass or fail on your own. No one is helping you. And that’s scary and creative.
How did HBO feel about being a character?
King: They think it’s funny. They knew they were going to take some shots, some hits of trying to expose what’s happening there, what’s happening in television. But there was nothing like, don’t do that. Yet.
What’s the larger theme you’re trying to tell?
King: It’s about how much attention do you need to feel good about yourself. It’s really a story about what is a career worth. It’s set in show business because it’s so brutal and honest and you’re literally given a report card every day. That line’s bad, that line’s good. You’re too old for this, you’re too young for this. To me, it’s a show about a woman choosing herself over other people’s version of her. Believe it or not.