‘The Comeback’ Episode 5: Valerie Can Act, Seriously

Every week, when sitting back with a glass of wine and cowering in front of another cringe-filled episode of The Comeback, I find myself coming away with a sense of heartache for Valerie Cherish, who rarely gets the respect she so desperately craves. But after last week’s brilliantly morbid climax, it was a relief last night when the show’s second season finally gave Valerie back a shred of her dignity. Even though she had to play make-believe on set as she juggled some potentially very bad publicity, the episode made for for a welcome appearance by a Season 1 regular who told her the truth—ending with some concluding words of inspiration.

GREEN SCREEN.

The demands of cable television bring new physical and emotional challenges each day for Valerie, who must further distinguish between fantasy and reality. For this week’s episode of Seeing Red, she thinks she’ll be reprising her role from Room and Bored as “Aunt Patsy”. However, she then realizes that the scene is all in Paulie G.’s mind, and she has to pretend that the set is there, in a massive room (and full-body suit) as green as synthetic vomit. A studio audience of about 20 actors is ready to laugh on cue as Valerie will transform into a monster who rips apart “Paulie’s inner child”. (I hope we get a visual of this next week!)

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Even worse is that Paulie G. isn’t even directing the next two episodes, since he’s two scripts behind. Replacing him is Andy Tate, famed female director and choreographer of dance film Kick It. (What’s amazing about The Comeback is the way it occasionally pulls out these completely false, yet totally plausible cultural references.) Andy busts a move for Valerie, who gleefully reciprocates in a brief dance-off, and then she demonstrates just how spectacular the scene will probably look in post-production. Valerie has sold herself over completely to the spectacle. It’s only a matter before Paulie G. gets his comeuppance.

AN OLD FRIEND.

Remember Tom (played by Robert Bagnell)? That sweet, confident, patient co-writer of Room and Bored? The one guy who actually seemed to like Valerie, if only just a little bit? He’s now working for Nickelodeon on the fifth season of “Nicki-Nicki-Nack”, a Teletubbies-esque show that he executive produces. Valerie visits him on set, only to find that he hasn’t spoken to Paulie G. in 6 years. “Why would you ever work with him? He hates you.”

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Bagnell’s performance has always been exciting to watch, as he’s one of the most intelligent people on this show—conveying a mixture of sympathy and discomfort through a guarded smile for the camera. But then he yells like we’ve never seen him before. While Tom is looking out for Valerie, he is more than a little jealous of Paulie’s HBO deal, and wonders why he became stuck in the rut of children’s programming. Nice guys finish last? I do hope we see more of Tom this season, and that The Comeback restores the pillars of justice as it tends to do in the final hour.

PUBLICITY.

Valerie’s publicist, Billy, finds her on set accompanied one of HBO’s PR people. He has scheduled interviews with the New York Times, Buzzfeed, etc., but he has to cancel all of them because Valerie is just too busy on set. He flips out—will Valerie not be the “it” girl he always dreamed about?? Or will she leave him like Eva Longoria pre-Desperate Housewives?!?! “Why don’t you just fire me? Fuck it. I quit!!” OK, Billy. (He returns at the end of the episode—too much caffeine this morning.)

The NY Times reporter arrives on set unexpectedly. She tells Valerie that her performance in the first episode was “very brave”. Valerie freaks out—does this mean she totally debased herself? “Brave” in this industry can only mean that she gained 50 pounds or otherwise risked tarnishing her image completely. She demands from Jane to see the dailies of the show’s first episode. The scene is one of her chewing out Mitch/Paulie G. over the phone, being the confident bitch she knew she always could be, in a haze of chiaroscuro lighting. Valerie finds this visual unflattering (where is her spotlight?) while Mickey couldn’t agree less—and of course, she brings it up to Paulie on set. “You’re like a needle in my arm!!!” he yells. Meanwhile, Val’s husband Mark has had enough and is moving to the Palisades.

In the final scene of the episode, Valerie confronts the New York Times reporter as she drives away from set, to ask her exactly what she meant by brave. “I meant that you were so…emotionally raw. People have never seen that side of you before. Surely you were aware of what you were doing!” You mean…Valerie’s a good actress? Cue “Dreams” by The Cranberries. Seth Rogen couldn’t be on set today, but he sent Val a starfish. Because she’s a star.

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