I’m back with Kerensa Cadenas to discuss The Comeback as part of TV Ate My Wardrobe’s Summer Rewind season. We’re looking at episodes 4 and 5 – “Valerie Stands up for Aunt Sassy” and “Valerie Demands Dignity.”
Emma: The episodes dealt with two very different aspects, the first one with the show Room & Bored, gender politics and Valerie’s terrible relationship with the writers and the second looked at reality TV and what an audience wants/expects from this genre of television. They were both focused on Valerie and her position within both her shows and how her expectations don’t necessarily match reality (boom boom).
So episode 4 picks up with the Room & Bored in full production and Valerie’s relationship with Paulie G hits a new low after Valerie objects to a specific line in the script. Instead of taking Jimmy’s very good advice (which he undermines by patronizingly calling her honey) and letting the audience show that the line is terrible, Valerie lets all of her insecurities control her actions. The line is terrible and refers to a box of puppies as Korean barbecue (the line before it is equally bad as it plays on the word puppies and Juna’s ‘puppies’) and Valerie is worried that this will make her character unlikable and even worse could get the show cancelled. In the same conversation with Jimmy he informs Valerie that I’m It! didn’t get cancelled because of a badly timed Rodney King joke, but because they had a chimpanzee as a lawyer. Valerie maintains after that it was the joke and that everyone loved the chimpanzee but after seeing how quick Animal Practice was cancelled last year, I think Jimmy is probably correct.
This episode highlights how self-absorbed and unaware Valerie can be; her focus on how Aunt Sassy could be perceived as unlikable in turn could make the Valerie on the reality show look unfavorable instead, especially if it is edited in the ‘right’ way. This stems from her interactions with Gigi, the new female writer. At first Valerie has little interest in who Gigi is and dismisses her until she realizes that Gigi might be able to help her out with the line in question. Gigi is new to LA and television writing as she is a playwright from New York so when Valerie suggests some bonding time it seems like a good idea to Gigi to help out. The episode highlights the predicament for a lone female writer on a staff of guys (which still isn’t all that uncommon sadly – though from my count The Comeback bucks the trend and has 4 credited female writers to 3 credited male writers) and how the writer has all the power, not the actor.
When Valerie’s multiple attempts to get the line changed before filming the episode fails and she has to deliver the line, she does so with enthusiasm even though she hates it and the line bombs (because it’s terrible and racist). Instead of leaving the writers to come up with a suitable replacement Valerie does the one thing that she has been warned against as it might lead to “The hate show” for her character as a reaction to her interference. This scene is so hard to watch because we know that she’s not going to leave it alone and we know that whatever the writers give her will be worse. I thought they were just going to cut Valerie from the scene which would play into Valerie’s fear of becoming the hated character – Valerie explained to Mark that this is a defining line and if an audience doesn’t like her character then she will be included in less scenes until she is removed all together and then she will have nothing. This fear that drives Valerie throughout the episode (and in all the episodes really) is understandable considering she has had such a big gap between shows and this vulnerability makes me root for her, at the same time it also makes her blind to all the help and support around her and can make her seem very self absorbed.
The replacement line isn’t racist, but it is sexually deeming and takes the conflict between Valerie and Paulie G to a new level (“Here comes the hate show” Jimmy mutters). The new line not only calls Valerie old, but also makes her sound desperate. Once again Valerie shows professionalism and delivers the line with enthusiasm, but it’s her reaction after where she looks broken and utterly alone for a moment that is heartbreaking. As we saw in the upfronts episode Lisa Kudrow is so good at delivering this kind of reaction as Valerie lets the mask drop just for a second.
After Valerie has gathered herself and put the mask back on there is another difficult scene as she talks to Paulie G about what just happened. She quietly begs him to go easy on her and it’s so painful to see her plead her case in this way. Basically Paulie G is the worst and I really hope they have something awful in store for him. Valerie is clearly concerned with perception and this episode shows that her perception and reality don’t often match up. It’s frustrating to watch her like this and it’s the most I have yelled at the screen because of how oblivious she is to everything – including the empty gesture of wanting a puppy and then clearly not actually wanting one.
What did you think of this episode? Were you as frustrated with Valerie as I was?
Kerensa: I really liked this episode especially because I thought it had some super timely topics in it that you’ve touched on. I agree that Valerie was super frustrating in this episode and I cringed with so much embarrassment for her. That whole puppy thing felt like an even more extreme version of buying Mickey that $4000 plane ticket because the cameras were there (Imagine me saying cameras like Jenna Maroney).
Sometimes I wonder if Valerie is aware of how ridiculous she seems because you are so right in that if they edited her show in the right way she’d look like a monster. But I do think she’s aware of that especially because in this episode she mentioned likeability so much, that if we were having a drinking game, we both would have been very, very drunk. And I think it’s interesting Valerie discusses this so often–she knows that in order (at least then) in order to be female and on television, she needs to be likeable and she needs her character to be likeable not saying terrible and racist jokes.
Paulie G’s humiliation of Valerie with that joke was so awful especially since he knew she had to go along with it. And the gross thing was that everyone enjoyed it which is so depressing. Because Valerie knew that she wouldn’t be likeable with the previous joke but then joking about how she’s basically sexless makes her likeable. Ugh.
Valerie’s manipulation of Gigi was kinda gross especially how she blew her off at first when she didn’t realize who she was. But at the same time, the whole dynamic between the two showed how little power they both have and how blowhards like Paulie G. are running things. And I’m guessing that this isn’t very far off from reality in a writer’s room for a lady. Like you said, I’m hoping they have something awful in store for Paulie G.
I really like Valerie and am rooting for her but sometimes she makes it hard. Granted, we still aren’t that far into the series but I feel like I only know portions of Valerie. I don’t really feel like I know her–other than her on I’m It! (which we saw that clip of!) and this persona she’s constructed. In the next episode, I feel like a little of that peels off, but I’m wondering how real Valerie will actually get. Because I kinda have the feeling she’s terrified that the real her is super unlikeable. What do you think?
Also, we must talk about her speech about fading out…
Emma: Jenna Maroney will always be on my mind when someone says camera, especially in situations like this.
I’d agree with you about not really knowing who Valerie really is and this is emphasized by Mark’s bewilderment to how Valerie is behaving in regards to the original joke in the script, as to him she is acting like a completely different person. She explains that he’s never seen her when she’s been working before and I don’t think this reaction is just down to the fact that their conversation is being filmed. This neurotic response is perfectly explained in the fade away speech which could be viewed as a completely over the reaction to one joke in the script but in terms of stardom it might not be as crazy as Valerie makes it seem.
When it comes to reality TV stars the whole Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame perfectly symbolizes how quickly their cycle of stardom is. Valerie is a slightly different case because she is a marriage of being a sitcom star and now a reality star. Any of the reality shows that have celebrity in the title are examples of these whereas competitions like Idol or The Amazing Race (more on this when we discuss episode 5) and reality lifestyle shows like The Hills or Keeping up with the Kardashians create celebrity in a different way. One is about maintaining relevance/fame whereas the others are about becoming famous.
Everyone wants to feel like they matter in some way and for Valerie her career has stalled in a huge way, going from a hit show to an actress who is barely recognized. Room & Bored is her opportunity to reclaim those glory years and for her this joke could put an end to that; she’s trying to convince herself it’s because the show could get cancelled but in this fading away speech she reveals that she’s worried that it’s her character that will get the push and this in turn will be the end of The Comeback. There have been a couple of moments where the real Valerie comes through and it’s always at times of heightened emotional vulnerability – at the upfronts, when she performs the new joke and here.
I have to wonder how much, if any of this is meant to reference her experience on Friends because Phoebe was the ‘kooky/quirky’ one out of the three women and while she was never demeaned in the way Aunt Sassy was she definitely pushed to the periphery at times when it came to the bigger end of season stories (along with Joey, they generally got the C story). On the show Phoebe had a very good sex life, but in terms of promoting the show Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox were definitely more likely to grace the covers of men’s magazines so The Comeback could also be referencing how the three of them were represented in the external promotion of the show.
What did you think of the speech?
Kerensa: Let’s be honest, Jenna Maroney is always on our minds–well at least mine anyways.
I thought that her speech was pretty heartbreaking to watch because Valerie so desperately wants to hold on to what she had created for herself with I’m It even if that’s not realistic any longer. But at the same time you can see that underlying ruthlessness that Valerie is totally capable of to make The Comeback a hit (which we see a bit of in the next episode).
That’s super interesting regarding Friends–which I never really watched and have never particularly cared for what I did see. But that totally makes so much sense. That reminds me of the scene when Valerie slaps Jesse on the ass it felt like she was trying to sex up her image somewhat but didn’t want him to reciprocate. When he did, she did the robot so everyone would forget about it.
Do you have other thoughts on episode 4 or should we start on episode 5? Which was WOW.
Emma: I was pretty big into the whole Friends thing, it was one of the first really huge US shows that I watched and if I flick onto an episode and nothing else is on I’ll still gladly watch it. So I’m probably viewing it a response to her Friends career, but so far I don’t think it’s making any overt negative comments about that experience.
I thought something similar about the butt slap, it’s also another way to try as retain some of spotlight that she fears is on the younger cast.
That’s all I have on episode 4 and so let’s move on to episode 5, which as you say WOW.
It’s an episode that focuses on what reality TV is and if we had “likability” as our drinking game word for ep 4, “dignity” would be our get drunk word for this one. It’s all Valerie wants her show to have, but does it?
This is all triggered by a couple of things, first an embarrassing moment where Valerie thinks the worst thing they’ve caught is her without her lipstick on, instead it’s a videotape called “Ladies Loving Ladies 5” that the cameras have seen. This leads to Valerie trying to defend her husband having porn tape saying he only has one (he has more than one) – side note nothing dates a show more than VHS and old cell phones. Valerie wants to appeal to middle America and she wants to do it with dignity (*drink*). Porn might not be the way to do that.
There is still a question of editing especially when Jane points out “You don’t have to worry about what we’re shooting as we’re shooting everything.” Jane explains that it takes a lot of footage to make an interesting reality show which begins Valerie’s tailspin. This is made even worse when Valerie spots Entertainment Weekly’s cover asking “Is Reality TV Dying?” with sex and stunts needed to liven it up.
While I have quite a bit more to add I want to throw it back to you to find out what your thoughts are about the set up for this episode?
Kerensa: The set up for this episode was so so good. Valerie’s insistence that “Ladies Loving Ladies 5” was the only porn in the house and that it was most certainly Mark’s was hilarious. Although later in the episode, I think it’s safe to assume Mark’s not watching that solo.
Valerie seeing that EW cover “Is Reality TV Dying?” sets off Valerie into a completely EPIC tailspin focused on DIGNITY. The theme of this episode.
Kudrow is a national treasure.
Do you think Valerie acted particularly dignified this episode?
Emma: In some respects Valerie acts dignified in this episode, particularly when it comes to the running out of gas stunt that Charla sets up – I’ve never seen The Amazing Race so I didn’t know that Charla was a real contestant on that show but I know enough about that show that I don’t think it really matters that I didn’t have that knowledge. Charla is here to represent the veteran reality star and she knows how to appeal to an audience and go with the situations that are sometimes set up.
Valerie doesn’t have this background so she doesn’t want to play along, all she wants to do is get to her all important TV Guide interview. Which she does, but she has an epic falling over moment and it also means having to get the bus (something I thought she’d make a big deal out of and she didn’t). Valerie’s knees are all cut up but she makes it to the lunch and the critic thinks that Valerie’s dignity idea is refreshing.
Now Valerie’s main issue with Charla was that she was trying to manipulate Valerie’s show and if it had been a more thought out plan with Valerie’s input, I think she might have been more inclined to take part. This comes after that article and the dull moment shopping, where she’s trying to appeal to middle America (and features Glee’s Jayma May as the sales girl) and so I think she’s open to suggestions.
Valerie attempts to sex up her own show by wearing new satin nightwear to bed and arousing Mark, but then she stops him short and the bathroom is the only place they’ve been having sex. As we find out later in the episode the bathroom might not have visuals but we can hear everything they’re doing. So Valerie is attempting manipulation in her own way and this in turn pisses off Mark as he tells her that she “gave me blue balls for ratings.” These last two episodes have endeared me to Mark and what it means to be a less willing participant in a reality show.
You’re so spot on about Lisa Kudrow and I really need to start watching Web Therapy as it returned this week.
What do you think about Valerie’s interactions with Charla and Mark with her quest for dignity?
Kerensa: I never watched The Amazing Race either but I knew about this episode because one of my best friends who LOVES this show told me I had to alert him right after I watched it.
Charla’s manipulation of Valerie’s show is kinda what I imagined all reality television stars to be like. I agree that I think Valerie might have gone along with it all if she had been given some notice especially since she wants to amp up the action on her show.
That bus moment was so epic. I was glad to see that Valerie didn’t care about riding the bus either and it was hilarious when she asked the bus driver if he could hurry. I loved it when she told Charla off though.
I was so glad that the TV critic that Valerie met with thought that her concept was “refreshing.” I think it really gave Valerie the boost she needed to feel more confident in what she wants to do with the show. Because after she saw that EW cover, you could just feel the tension of her subtle manipulations to sex the show up–from the sexy nightie scene with Mark to her reluctant agreement to Charla working as her assistant. It was really nice to see Valerie get a win even if it’s a pretty small one.
However, like you mentioned with Mark and Valerie having sex in the bathroom, I think that’s a pretty big example of how oblivious Valerie is with some of the aspects of reality television. She’s super concerned with how she looks and within that constant worry I think she forgets to look at the bigger picture.
I still don’t really get the Mark thing? I do agree with you that I feel like you get to know him a bit better in this episode but I still don’t feel like I understand the dynamic of their relationship at all.
Emma: We need to talk about the super cringe part of this episode and Valerie’s lack of dignity. This occurs when Valerie is introduced to Charla and she’s super condescending, this is in part because she doesn’t know who Charla is (Mickey is a huge fan and he mentioned The Amazing Race in the upfronts episode so this isn’t a surprise), but also because Valerie has problems interacting with people for the cameras. This leads back to what you mention about Valerie not considering the big picture, she’s so concerned with certain aspects that other important factors pass her by.
Charla knows how to make things work for her and turns the incident in the dry cleaners into a perfect moment of TV, do you think we’ll see Valerie adapting to the reality show format to her advantage or will it always end in some kind of disaster?
With Mark I agree, as while I find his manner around the cameras to be understandable I also don’t get them as a couple. Hopefully this will get expanded upon. I would love to see his daughter again as I love how she plays up to the camera.
Quick LA question, is Montana Avenue the average persons shopping street? That’s what I got from Valerie’s attempts to appeal to middle America with that trip.
Valerie did use her catchphrase “I don’t want to see that” at the perfect moment as she discusses that porn tape. Oh and Valerie’s attempts to flag parts of the tape even when Jane and the crew isn’t there is both hilarious and pointless as we know that Valerie’s feelings probably won’t be taken into consideration when it comes to the editing.
Any other thoughts on either of these episodes?
Kerensa: When Valerie first meets Charla it is SUPER uncomfortable. Although Mickey was so funny when he met her and kept calling Valerie to talk to Charla. I think Valerie can’t deal with other people on the show because she’s so terrified of being upstaged by anyone. I don’t know if I can imagine Valerie adapting to the format–I think she’s still so stuck in her fame for I’m It, she just wants to recreate that which isn’t going to happen in the same way.
I don’t think that anyone shops on Montana–I thought it was weird that she was shopping there.
Emma: Just as we were wrapping this discussion up the TCA panel for the new Anna Faris/Allison Janney sitcom Mom was going on and this tweet from Slate critic June Thomas popped up in my Twitter feed: “”You’re suddenly the aunt”–Anna Faris on how moving into one’s 30s affects actresses’ employment opportunities.” This perfectly represents what Valerie Cherish is going through with her career and shows once again that The Comeback nails its observations about both the Hollywood climate and reality TV.
Kerensa Cadenas is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is a staff writer for Women and Hollywood. She also writes for This Was Television, Forever Young Adult, and Bitch magazine. She was the Research Editor for Tomorrow magazine. You can follow her on Twitter and read her ridiculous thoughts about teen television at her website.