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

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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