These days, there are a lot of Larry Sanders-like yuks to be had on Showtime’s Episodes, a showbiz satire about two acerbic British writers (and spouses) who lose their souls in Hollywood when their middlebrow Brit-com becomes a pandering comeback vehicle for Friends alumnus Matt LeBlanc. But Friends castmate Lisa Kudrow got there first with The Comeback, a satirical look at a showbiz has-been that was so brutal and uncompromising that it lasted only a season on HBO. Shot in faux-documentary style like the most harrowing-ever episode of E! True Hollywood Story, the series chronicled the desperate efforts of the no longer young or hip Valerie Cherish to return to sitcom fame, even if it meant playing the wacky landlady on a comedy whose dewy starlets and jaded writers treated her with open contempt.
The show was so cringe-y that many viewers wondered where the comedy was in this portrait of a seemingly delusional woman being humiliated over and over. Well, it was in the evisceration of showbiz pretension, of course, but it was also in Kudrow’s performance. Her Valerie had a Phoebe-like optimism and refusal to be fazed by any setback, and those qualities gave her a dignity – and humor – that transcended the show’s venom. The Comeback isn’t for everyone, but it’s still treasured by cringe connoisseurs.
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