The show must go on

Lisa Kudrow's painfully funny -- or is that funnily painful? -- long-cancelled sitcom returns on HBO


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There's this thing about comebacks in Hollywood: they happen to very few actors, and to even fewer TV shows.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/11/2014 (3133 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There’s this thing about comebacks in Hollywood: they happen to very few actors, and to even fewer TV shows.

But the return of HBO’s pointedly self-descriptive The Comeback creates a welcome opportunity for both, bringing former Friends star Lisa Kudrow back to premium cable in a revival of a cringe-driven comedy which, when it first aired for a single, non-renewed season in 2005, was pop-culture prescient in a way that made it a little too far ahead of its time.

The Comeback, which has its long-delayed second-season première on Sunday, Nov. 9, on HBO Canada (check listings for time), finds Kudrow back in the role of Valerie Cherish, a faded sitcom star who, in the series’ first incarnation, was desperately trying to restart her career by taking a demeaning role in vapid TV comedy while at the same time starring in a self-focused reality-TV show.

Lisa Kudrow in The Comeback
Lisa Kudrow in The Comeback

That initial 13-episode run — produced by Kudrow and Sex and the City’s Michael Patrick King — was as uncomfortable as it was insightful, mining its humour from the ever-more-humiliating antics of fame-starved Valerie, a character whose epic cringeworthiness places her in the uncomfortable-by-design company of Extras’ Andy Millman (Ricky Gervais) and Hello Ladies’ Stuart Pritchard (Stephen Merchant).

As the series returns, Valerie is a decade older, and another decade past the TV biz’s best-before date for actresses of her ilk, but still fully in the grip of the delusion that reclaimed stardom is just one hard-won break away.

After flaming out spectacularly in an attempt to join the cast of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (ironically, she doesn’t understand the scripted nature of “unscripted” TV), she has hired a handful of college kids to record her every move as part of speculative “behind the scenes” documentary she hopes to sell.

When she hears that the writer of the aforementioned sleazy sitcom, Room and Bored, has now penned an even-tawdrier made-for-cable series based on their stormy working relationship on that earlier series, Valerie sees red … and an opportunity.

She rushes to HBO to deliver a cease-and-desist order, but suddenly finds herself in the middle of a casting call for the character based on her decade-ago self. Anger turns to confusion, and Valerie can’t stop herself when the producers ask her to read for the part.

And from there, the awkward comedy of a show within a show within a show within a show spins in directions that not even the most inside-showbizzy of series — Entourage, The Larry Sanders Show, Episodes, Curb Your Enthusiasm, whatever — have dared to explore.

It isn’t — just as it wasn’t a decade ago — laugh-out-loud funny, but if you’re the sort that finds delight in the comedy of discomfort, this Comeback might be just what you’re after.


The Newsroom

During its first two seasons on HBO, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom has cultivated a whole lot of lovers, an equal number of haters and probably not a single in-betweener.

The series, which returns for a shortened six-episode final season on Sunday, Nov. 9 (HBO Canada, check listings for time), is unlikely to change the minds of any of its supporters or detractors with its ambitious third-year tangle of storylines. One thing is certain, however: if there actually were anybody in the on-the-fence category after The Newsroom’s first couple of campaigns, he or she will definitely find a side to come down on before this exit is complete.

Emily Mortimer and Jeff Daniels on The Newsroom.
Emily Mortimer and Jeff Daniels on The Newsroom.

People adored The Newsroom’s first two seasons for the same reason others detested it — Sorkin’s writing, which, depending on your position, is either eloquent, passionate and insightful, or bloated, precious and preachy. And in the third season, it can be argued that there are moments when each of those adjectives is duly served.

The season opens with fictional cable-news network ACN’s chaotic-as-usual day being disrupted by reports of a bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And from there, as it always has, The Newsroom uses the benefit of hindsight to create a fast-paced, dialogue-frenzied drama whose storyline allows Sorkin to offer pointed commentary on a) how the tragedy was covered, and b) how it, and other 21st-century news events, ought to be covered.

As it unfolds, the new season also allows Sorkin to weigh in on the impact of social media on news reporting, the moral crises created by Edward Snowden-ish document leakers, the dangers of media-conglomerate acquisitions and takeovers, and the sad truth facing a planet that has ignored environmental warnings for too long.

Despite veering into heavy-handedness at regular intervals, The Newsroom remains — at least, for devoted Sorkin-philes — a meticulously crafted and beautifully acted (by a great cast, led by Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer and Sam Waterston) drama that is unlike anything on TV since, well, Sorkin’s last series.

This just in: The Newsroom is going out on its own terms. Twitter: @BradOswald

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Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.


Updated on Thursday, November 6, 2014 8:56 AM CST: Replaces photo, formats fact box

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