‘The Comeback’ Finale Strains To Find Redemption (SPOILERS)

The Comeback’ Finale Strains To Find

The Comeback” has ended its comeback on HBO, completing what amounted to a victory lap for a show that was ahead of its time, yes, but despite cultish devotion, never really victorious.

Perhaps that’s why the finale came as such a surprise, exhibiting a sentimentality that provided a sense of closure but which simply felt incongruous with much of what transpired within the show’s fictional world, much less the realities of Hollywood that it sought to lampoon.

Several movies came to mind while viewing the final hour (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched), in which Lisa Kudrow’s character, Valerie Cherish, completed what amounted to a “Shawshank”-like redemption, crawling through a torrent of excrement (literally, in an unnecessary twist) to come out cleansed on the other side.

Like “The Paper Chase” – in which the protagonist, having chased law-school grades the entire movie, finally decides that’s not what’s truly important – Valerie ultimately sacrificed the showcase of a lifetime, accepting an Emmy award for her comeback role, to go be with sick friend Mickey (Robert Michael Morris) and even reconnect with her estranged husband (Damian Young).

It was sweet, to be sure, but also – based on everything we’ve seen of Valerie, then and now – wholly unconvincing.

Given how needy she is, and how painfully tone deaf, the producers just didn’t lay the groundwork for a scenario where Valerie would sacrifice the opportunity to bask in her moment of glory. Sure, director James Burrows (playing himself, having been a seminal figure in the success of “Friends”) offered the actress oracular wisdom about identifying priorities, but that flew in the face of almost everything she’s done – and perhaps more significantly, endured – until now.

Indeed, the sequence that really captured what Valerie’s all about came when a pair of drunken party-goers took a selfie with her earlier in the show, trying to get her to utter an obscenity. Obnoxious as they were, when the two said, “We love you,” Valerie – always desperate for approval – responded, “Well, that’s the most important thing.”

And that – the anonymous “love” associated with celebrity – was consistently the most important thing to Valerie, explaining all the indignities she suffered. So while Mickey and Mark were her emotional anchors, writers Kudrow and Michael Patrick King seemed to undermine the biting satire in their hurried contortions to provide Valerie with a version of happily ever after – including her separate encounters with the now-movie stars with whom she had worked on her previous sitcom.

Charitably, one can conclude that Kudrow and King (who also directed), after putting Valerie through so much, were indulging in their own Hollywood fantasy, while tying a bow on the series for those who had stuck with it. They even titled the finale “Valerie Gets What She Really Wants.”

Still, that doesn’t jibe with the discomfort and back-biting in which “The Comeback” trafficked, or seem like enough to knit Valerie and Mark back together again.

Viewing the season as a whole, reviving “The Comeback” certainly represented an interesting experiment and creative exercise, yielding some powerful work by Kudrow in those moments when Valerie let her anger and frustration erupt.

That said, the note on which the show first ended possessed a kind of poetry that didn’t cry out for a sequel. And while this much-delayed second season provided its share of food for thought, with apologies to The Association song that played over the credits, this comeback was, finally, too saccharine to cherish.

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  1. David says:

    Did Paulie G write this review?

  2. Al Hayden says:

    I couldn’t disagree more with this ” critic “. The second season has a different tone, and was right on the mark. The finale, for real people, who have had to choose between a secure home or ambition, or REAL people who have lost people they have loved, the emotional, frankly incredibly acting finale was a beautiful, poetic, sad, sweet, emotional moment of pure gold. It runs circles around the already brilliant season 1 ending. The ” critic ” who has written this piece reminds me of one of the reviewers sitting at Valerie’s press interview, unimpressed, for the sake of being unimpressed. Shame on you Variety – as this series is GENIUS.

  3. djohnson620 says:

    This is an absurd review. The groundwork was more than laid for the series resolution. This is critique for critique’s sake. Boo.

  4. Justin Dew says:

    “Our show is about a woman’s journey, you know, about her hearfelt journey back to herself.”

    – Valerie Cherish “The Comeback” Sn1 Ep5

    As an artist, I find it appalling when someone says ugly things in the most casual of ways about another person’s art; a tangible expression of their essence. However, you’ve criticized Kudrow & King’s work with so much apparent ignorance, I’m embarrassed for you.

    For example, when you said, “the anonymous ‘love’ associated with celebrity – was consistently the most important thing to Valerie,” it became stunningly obvious you didn’t engage at all with the show and probably just had it on, listened for a few key things, grabbed one, and ran with it. Well sir, you picked the wrong one. This isn’t school, it’s the real world; you have to actually engage fully. If a critic’s views are polar opposite from 100% of people who watched the show and read Variety, there’s something wrong. Something that looks very out of touch and distracted.The only ones you will find agreeing with your review even Valerie Cherish would say are pathetic schmoozers.

    Consistently, the most important thing to Valerie was to be famous. The one you’re thinking of obsessed with “anonymous celebrity love” would have been Joan Crawford, but she’s dead, and not associated with the show. If you really watched, you would see, although not consistently, the most important thing to Valerie was Mark and Mickey. Many of us are don’t put our family and friends first like we should, that position is usually reserved for our careers. Kind of like how it was for Valerie.

    I’ll end with a personal note to you, sir. You said, “criticism has grown coarser, more unfeeling, designed more to wound … than enlighten,” back in 2011, going on to add, “But then, who’s going to link to a piece whose shades-of-gray conclusions are so wishy-washy?”

    It’s not only those two options. Didn’t you know this?

    You want to buck the trend? You want to stand out, be noticed? Then sir, you need to turn that love in your heart back on and integrate into your work. Write articles people will cheer about! Writing articles that create a stir are a piece of cake; you eloquently talk shit. I believe you can turn it around. My 63 year old mother just told me for the first time she wants to change the world and is ready to see what she’s made of. Are you?

    Best of luck and a very HAPPY new year!

  5. Jon says:

    Read your comments. Literally no one agrees with it enjoys your opinion. This serves only to prove that a “TV Critic” much like a travel agent, is a job no longer needed in the modern era.

    The show laid plenty of ground work for Val’s arc all season, the “needless” shit outpouring was set up in EP 1 and was the visual sign of Val not taking care of her home life and letting a ton of people’s shit into her home.

    Also — PS — all stories (film, TV, book, etc) are about change. That’s like rule one. So you saying the end makes no sense “because she’s selfish and a narcissistic actor” misses the whole point of everything. She changed over the season and that’s obvious and earned.

    Geez it’s like explaining to my Grandpa how TV works and why stuff is funny or sweet.

    Just sit there silently as smile politely. Us youngsters don’t listen to, agree with or need you to pipe up with your opinion, Grandpa.

    GL with the new career search!

  6. JPH says:

    For a TV Critic you know nothing about actors and the business. Spend a little time with Actors and on the set of the series and this review would have been full of praise not criticism. Lisa Kudrow delivered a performance worthy of an Emmy and she better win Best Actress in a Comedy Series in September. She was robbed in 2006 losing to Julia Louie Dreyfus for the New Adventures of Old Christine. How that happened is one of the biggest Emmy mysteries in the history of the awards.

  7. tom carter says:

    This review completely misses the significance of the Dorothy-in-Oz moment when Valerie steps into the Emmy lobby and out of range of Jane’s cameras. The Comeback’s creators are smart enough to remember how The Wizard of Oz turned out. It struck me that the moment Valerie leaves Jane’s camera range she enters a multi-camera fantasy of who she wants to be and how she wants to be treated. The shots from that point on are too perfect and each moment too Hollywood. It even becomes a cliched TV hospital drama with the nifty transition shot into the ER. That is why Mark and Valerie seem to have become too perfect to quickly. Only Mickey’s fantasy behavior matches his real behavior because he is the only character who is an authentic, giving, self-aware human being. In this context, the finale was nothing short of brilliant.

  8. Go back and watch the first episode of the first season, and you’ll see (a) that’s the same Valerie as the one at the end of this season ended with (b) Jane coaching Valerie to ham it up for reality TV. The show brilliantly went full circle–without the cameras on her Valerie simply reverted to the same as she was when the show first started.

  9. Gerard MacMullin says:

    Oh, lighten up. Valerie had always been protected by Mickey and Mark. But overwhelmed and suddenly alone on awards night, she was emotionally stripped when blindsided by the news about Mickey. Left to her own devices at her most vulnerable moment, the shallow, needy, attention seeking actress did the right thing. If that’s saccharine, I’ll have a double!

  10. Cristina says:

    I meant it is not what it was expected from Valerie

  11. Cristina says:

    I love the whole show and the ending, it is what was expected of Valerie, that’s what it made it so good. In my modest opinion you are too cynical.

  12. drushtvo87 says:

    oh, brian, you fucked up again. that was the BEST EPISODE of 2014!

  13. Dina says:

    I totally disagree with this recap. It was an incredible, not to mention emotional hour
    of television and totally satisfying as a season finale (let’s hope not a series finale.) This critique sounds like it came from someone who never really watches the show or is interested. Best hour of tv in a long time (and I watch “The Good Wife,” lol.)

  14. Evan says:

    I disagree with the view that the show didn’t lay the groundwork for the redemptive finale. There were many times, starting in episode one, and even going back to the first season, when you can see Valerie struggling internally with all the slights to her dignity that fame seems to require of her. And there are comments and gestures in particular that show she’s deeply concerned for Mickey. All that changed in the last episode is that she finally saw she couldn’t have it both ways. And it wasn’t even really the words of wisdom from the director that opened her eyes. I think it was just the immediate impact of learning the news that Mickey had collapsed. So Valerie’s priorities were always there, just taking a backseat to the famequest. Nothing big and explicit, but rather many subtle cues that Kudrow performed so well, are sufficient groundwork in my opinion for the last scenes that fans if this show really wanted to see.

  15. Sam says:

    This is probably one of the more pretentious criticisms of the show I have had the (dis)pleasure of reading. While the season two finale was not perfect, especially not in comparison to the second season as a whole, it did provide a perfect ending. For the reviewer to doubt Valerie’s humanity and love for Mickey proves that he did not pay attention as closely as he would like to make it seem. Or perhaps he missed some major themes while analyzing the depth? It’s quite ironic, because this reviewer was parodied in the previous episode during the round table interview with Valerie.

    Moving on, however. Throughout this season we have witnessed Valerie’s struggle to accept Mickey’s illness, as well as her struggle to mask her pain and hurt at what he has to go through. We know there is a Valerie we don’t see while the cameras are on her, Mark has alluded to that several times. Breaking that wall and allowing Valerie to operate without the cameras was truly important. It was completely believable that she left the Emmys to be at Mickey’s side. If something happened to him, who would Valerie have? Her husband has left her, who would she have? I think she finally realized that celebrating the win with Mark and Mickey would be much more memorable than celebrating it with her Emmy guests, who have continually exploited her for their own gain.

    While this episode provided a sharp contrast to those preceding it (episodes 6 and 7 offer some of the darkest look into the television industry), it was necessary. First of all, Valerie breaking away from the cameras offers a world of opportunity if the show should continue. Second of all, how much more pain could Valerie take? How much more isolation? She was reaching her breaking point and she chose to save herself.

    Having the episode end with the same song as the first season ended was so special as well. As much as I wanted Valerie to be on that stage and take in the moment, you realize it’s only thirty seconds. It’s a speech almost everyone will forget. Spending it with the two most important people (and men) in her life was the right way to spend that moment and to end that episode. How can you argue with seeing the real Valerie we all know we haven’t seen?

  16. Sherman O says:

    This horrid review only confirms how cynical & despicable Hollywood is. Variety & Mr. Lowery are predictably tone deaf.

  17. I must say there were bits and pieces of the finale that seemed a bit rushed and disjointed, however, there were also moments when my heart truly broke for Valerie Cherish… But this I believe was the brilliance of the show and particularly the finale – – – it gave viewers little vignettes to explore Valerie’s insecurities and humanity in ways we had not been able to witness previously… There were even moments when the lines between Aunt Sassy, Valerie Cherish, Mallory Church and Lisa Kudrow became blurred culminating in all of these women walking out of the hospital in the last scene finally whole…

  18. Pete says:

    This season had its moments, however, Valerie was starting to come off as a caricature and too over the top to be believable. Hadn’t she learned anything from the fictional The Comeback 9 years ago? But this ending was deeply satisfying. It was a great way to end the series and made me love Valerie again.

  19. rosebianco98 says:

    The review is incorrect. As obnoxious as Valerie could be at times, there was always a human and vulnerable core that we were rooting for. Her relationship with Mark was her life saver, he was such a good guy. That, along with Valerie’s true friendship with Mickey, tells us there is more to Valerie than what she thinks the reality cameras should be showing. In fact that heart and vulnerability is what the reality show really depicted (kudos “Jane”) (and yet, damn you “Jane,” for jeopardizing her real happiness with Mark). Pursuit of a career for an actress is an extremely difficult one and I am grateful for the depiction of a nice person’s navigation of the Hollywood sharknado. The finale was realistic and satisfying. (Yes, the broken toilet subplot was excessive…)

  20. Viktor says:

    This writer clearly did not watch or play attention the entire season.

  21. Mara says:

    Did you even WATCH the show? Better question, do you have enough neurons to understand the nuanced brilliance what this show is? This is not brainless TV for the masses and if you cannot see how perfectly executed Valerie Cherish’s character progression has been throughout the series and season, then you clearly need to go back to reviewing Two and a Half Men or some sh*t like that.

  22. Jason says:

    Ugh this is so tired. That finale was wonderful.

  23. likwidnyte says:

    i think you missed a major point to the second season. We only ever saw Valerie when the camera crew was around. She was controlling; constantly wanting to micro-manage the image she was projecting. The uncomfortable part for the viewer was seeing her self-esteem shine through the cracks of it. In season two we got hints in passing to the troubles she had after the original Coneback. We heard about an abortion, infidelity. We didn’t know who Valerie really was because we saw what she wanted to show the cameras…until she leave the Emmys. Then we get a major shift in the look/feel and we see WHO she is. We see what’s most important.

  24. Susan says:

    I agree with the other 2 comments. All through the series, Valerie struggled with the challenges of wanting success and doing what was right. She was often caught up in circumstances that hindered this, but it was always clear to me that she was trying to do her best both professionally and in her personal life. I think that Lisa Kudrow and the show are fabulous and thank HBO for bringing it back. Bravo! I wish that Ms. Kudrow really got an Emmy for her performance – she deserves it!

  25. Jas says:

    Sorry, Mr Critic, you proved that you neither closely watched, nor actually consider the plot. If you call this ‘saccharine’, you have lived in Hollywood too long. I suggest you watch both seasons (again?) and reconsider your quickly penned and ill-considered review.

  26. Tammy says:

    i think you missed a few things. She saw Juno who was successful but still worried about how she came off, looking like she slept her way to the top. She finally couldn’t deny Mickey was not sick and might not be ok. She really thought that Mark would show up with his ticket. The hot young actor hit on her and she realized that isn’t what she wanted either. So the advice came at the perfect time . It was a great finale

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