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Tag Archives: Hummingbird Theory

Summer Rewind: The Comeback

25 Jun

Here at TV Ate My Wardrobe we wanted to check in with some old shows over the break and I am joined by my Mad Men chat partner in crime Kerensa Cadenas for this Summer Rewind project. First up we have HBO’s The Comeback and this discussion focuses on the pilot episode.

The-Comeback

Emma: So my knowledge of The Comeback was pretty minimal before I watched the pilot – I knew it starred Lisa Kudrow and was created by Michael Patrick King and that it features on a lot of cancelled too soon/one season wonders lists. That’s it. See I said it was minimal, I didn’t even know about the reality show format.

The first thing I did after watching it was I checked when Friends and Sex and the City ended (both 2004) and to see when Keeping up with the Kardashians premiered (2007). The Comeback aired in 2006 and it nails so much about reality show TV that has continued long after (hence why I looked up the Kardashian air date).

We meet Valerie Cherish after she has had a hit show (like Kudrow) and she has had a lull in her career since that show (it all gets pretty meta from here) and as part of her comeback she is filming a reality show at the same time as a new sitcom that she thought she was going to be the star of. Valerie has an ego like most people in this profession but l like that they don’t make her mean, she’s oblivious at times but she is never cruel. She clearly has confidence issues at times and the scene in which she is practicing the same line over and over while eating cake (filmed from the fixed camera in the kitchen, the one that she probably forgets is there and so this is Valerie at her most natural). This line becomes a moment of contention throughout the pilot; it is the reason Valerie’s character changes from career woman to dowdy aunt and it’s also the point of Valerie’s rebellion in front of the live studio audience.

The Comeback ep 1 talking head

The fixed camera in the kitchen is just one of several reality show filming techniques there is also the general film crew following her around with the producer suggesting statements for Valerie starting with “I feel…” The producer also wants Valerie to be more animated in her one on one piece with the camera – this is probably the most common set up in all reality TV where they talk about an event as if they are living in that moment, it’s also when these reality shows feel at their most false (an oxymoron I know). There is also a personal video diary which is where the person if probably meant to be at their most natural and don’t have the producer to manipulate the situation but these are also rather contrived (except for the delightful toilet sound in the background from her husband). It doesn’t really matter how authentic any of this is as the producer tells Valerie that they will edit parts.

Valerie complains that “This is supposed to be reality” and so it is clear that Valerie is unaware of how reality TV works; there are two different types of reality star those who know how it works and manipulate it to their advantage and those who trust the makers of the show and end up being portrayed in a manner they didn’t expect. I don’t think that people necessarily remain in either camp and you can move between the two. With SO many reality shows from competitions such as Top Model or Idol to family reality shows like Duck Dynasty and everything in between there is as much chance that the people involved will become a star as much as they will fade into obscurity. The idea of fame and keeping relevant is important and we see this repeated throughout The Comeback pilot.

What are your first impressions of The Comeback?

The Comback ep 1 award

Kerensa: I have actually seen the pilot episode of The Comeback several times. The first time I remember was in college and I went over to a friend’s place to drink or something and they were watching the pilot and shouting “I DON’T NEED TO SEE THAT.” And then I saw it randomly a couple other times. But I never have seen beyond that.

Watching it this time around made it SO apparent what a groundbreaking show The Comeback was when it aired. Like you mentioned it aired in a weird transitory time when it came to reality television (The Hills also started in 2006) right before it really exploded. And like you said about Valerie complaining about reality television and not understanding how it works–I think that seems super relevant for the time that she wouldn’t understand what she should have been doing. I feel like at that point maybe understanding how reality television worked, in the ways we know now, wasn’t something that would have even registered?

But like you said this idea of fame and being relevant (and especially being an aging actress) is obviously an idea that will continue to be important.

I also have some thoughts about Valerie Cherish–but I want to know what do you think of Valerie first.

The Comeback ep 1 Leno

Emma: I felt mostly sad for Valerie and her attempts to claw back the fame she once had. The “I’m It” wall of photos and its destruction later in the episode is the perfect representation of Valerie; this is her achievements and by the end of the episode they are on the floor and water damaged, she is no longer “It”. Her prize photo is a monkey shitting on her head on Leno because of how much attention it got, but it just feels embarrassing.

I’m really intrigued by her relationship with her husband as he doesn’t appear to be that invested in her latest project or her career. Valerie mentions that he isn’t in show business and this conflict is likely to be repeated, but rather than have an argument Valerie tries to put a brave face on it. This is her tactic for most situations and we see this when she is told about the character change and at her wardrobe fitting; she is good at acting fine but it’s obvious that she’s crying on the inside. I was half expecting Valerie to be a tantrum throwing diva; instead she is a people pleaser and just wants to be loved by everyone, so she’ll put on the awful ill-fitting tracksuit even though she hates it. Basically Valerie makes me feel sad at the moment.

What are your Valerie thoughts?

Ep 1 tracksuit

Kerensa: I agree with you entirely about her husband seeming completely uninterested in her career. And Valerie makes me feel really sad too. I know that this is preemptively judging a character that we don’t fully know yet but Valerie feels like a precursor to a lot of the female characters we have now–like an Amy Jellicoe, etc. Basically a messy, selfish and deeply insecure female character who just also wants to please everyone like you said. And like with Enlightened a lot of people couldn’t deal with Amy. I can’t tell whether or not she’ll fit into Emily Nussbaum’s Hummingbird Theory or not just yet.

I’m also curious how this will go throughout the season cause now I could see Valerie being pretty polarizing and right on the heels of Carrie Bradshaw–that not working well with viewers. Although of course, after rewatches, we all know that Carrie is (at least I think) a super problematic character.

What else stood out for you in the pilot? We have some weirdly familiar faces.

Ep 1 wardobe fitting

Emma: You’ve reminded me that I still need to watch Enlightened (I know) but I did find Emily Nussbaum’s Hummingbird Theory intriguing so we’ll have to keep this is mind as we watch. I do think Carrie was always problematic in SATC and even though she was the lead, I hated how everything was always about her (and it’s something I think The Carrie Diaries has avoided so far).

So many familiar faces – Kellan Lutz is playing another meathead (no surprise) and Malin Akerman plays the hot young actress Juna. As with Valerie I’m glad that they don’t make Juna mean, she’s hot and takes her clothes off in front of people (it’s HBO so I figured there would be some nudity) but it doesn’t feel false or like she’s doing it for the cameras. Juna also does the thing where she mentions how young she was when Valerie’s show was on and once again I don’t think it’s intentional (say like when Juliette Barnes does it to Rayna in the Nashville pilot which feels calculated). Juna doesn’t want to make Valerie feel bad but does so regardless.

I found the whole debate about why Valerie’s character shouldn’t have a job to be interesting, the writers clearly aren’t interested in Valerie and she’s there to serve the other characters so they don’t need to flesh out her story. Oh and the Juicy Couture mention gave me flashbacks to 2004 and mostly JLo and Britney. Do people still wear this brand?

The producer is someone I hope we see more of because she is really just focused on the job at hand; I wonder if she’ll remain this detached from Valerie as a person?

What are your other thoughts about this pilot?

Kerensa: I’m glad they don’t make Juna mean either and I hope that continues to stick. I’m liking the seeming mentor-y relationship the two could potentially have. And how trite would it be if there ended up being an All About Eve situation–beyond uninterested in that.

All I can say about Kellan Lutz is LOL.

Agreed on the Valerie thing. I feel like the writers are uninterested in her but know that this reality show will give their show leverage so they have to somewhat be vaguely interested.

People do still wear Juicy Couture and I personally think it’s one of the tragedies of our time. (JK that’s SO dramatic).

Kerensa Cadenas is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is a staff writer for Women and Hollywood. She also writes for This Was TelevisionForever 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.

 

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