Hello, hello, hello! In this episode of "The Comeback," HuffPost Entertainment editors Matthew Jacobs and Lauren Duca continue to worship Lisa Kudrow's magnificent turn as Valerie Cherish while trying to figure out why the hell she was ignored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association at the Golden Globes. (Honestly, do not even bother reading this post unless you are such a hardcore fan of "The Comeback" that you are literally swishing around in an Aunt Sassy sweatsuit as we speak.)
Lauren Duca: The fact that was "The Comeback" wholly missing from the Globes on Sunday made Lisa Kudrow's snub hurt even more than it did when the nominations were announced. I swear, I was imaging Valerie reacting to her lack of a nod and it broke my heart. This season was masterclass in cringe comedy, relentlessly commenting on itself and achieving everything the show set out to do with that stunning finale. Why do you think the HFPA ignored the comeback of "The Comeback," Matt? (Read: How dare they do this to us?)
Matthew Jacobs: The Globes paid no attention to "The Comeback" back in 2006, either, so I suppose we should have seen this coming, Lauren. Yet, it stings all the more. If the show was too idiosyncratic to net a Musical or Comedy Series nomination, fine, whatever. To see Lisa Kudrow shut out, though, has to indicate the HFPA did not watch it. I'm thrilled for Gina Rodriguez, and another Julia Louis-Dreyfus win would have been just as deserved, but there wasn't a better example of television acting in 2014 than Kudrow. We literally watched emotions flit across Valerie's face as if everything were happening in real time -- that's an obvious credit to the reality-show-within-a-show format, but it takes the most masterful of performers to pull it off with as much nuance as Kudrow.
LD: Ah, totally. The intricacy of her expressions has been impressive throughout the series, and I think even heightened by the meta structure this season. Remember her visiting the writers room with cookies in Season 1, only to find Paulie G banging away at a red-headed doll (meant to represent Val)? There was so much pain behind her smile, and a need to keep it together for the writers intertwined with maintaining composure for Jane's cameras.
Now, it's not just the reality show, but a reality show about "Seeing Red" about "Room and Bored" and the impact of her first reality show. That endless hall of mirrors adds a dimension that only the multitudes Kudrow contains could rise to meet. The slow chipping away of Val's ability to be in denial that she is playing herself as Mallory was so well-calculated. I'm blown away by the juxtaposition of earlier interactions (i.e. her putting on a wig that looks exactly like her own hair) to later ones (i.e. discovering her performance will be taken seriously). I mean, just her face when she realizes The New York Times reporter calling her brave is praise for her vulnerability (for playing herself) deserved a nomination. "Surely you knew what you were doing?" the reporter asks, and Val's lips quiver between covering for herself, feeling pride and feeling shock over perhaps truly being respected for the first time.
All of those scenes, though each funny in its own specific way, contain a deliberate element of pain. Could that be part of the lack of appreciation? Maybe this form of punishing cringe comedy is too far from the mainstream to be recognized.
MJ: Indeed, and I think this season was more of a whirlwind in terms of cringe factor. The first half was more benevolent toward Valerie than most of what we saw in Season 1. Even the cringiest moment of all, the already-infamous blow-job scene with Seth Rogen, came with a sort of knowingness. Last time we were being introduced to the specificities of type of Hollywood "The Comeback" depicts, whereas now we cringed because we were already familiar with the torture (both self-inflicted and industry-inflicted) that Valerie encounters. That, in turn, punctuated the painfulness.
LD: Can we pause to talk about that blow-job scene? Holy crap. In a way that was the quintessential "Comeback" scene. Because of the cringe comedy, yes, but also the enduring investigation into "the real" and the power it contains. Two nude actresses (/basically porn stars) flank Val as over-the-top symbols of exploitation while the divide between reality and fiction crumbles into oblivion. There's the distinction between 1) what is a "fantasy" (that the Paulie G character of Mitch is having) vs. the real blow job Mallory is giving him within "Seeing Red," 2) what truly happened on the set of "Room and Bored" vs. what is fictionalized, and 3) the degradation of the "fake" Mallory vs. Val's very real humiliation in physically getting on her knees and bobbing around between Seth Rogen's thighs.
It is all so painful. And when Jane comments on the whole thing from behind her cameras, the female gaze explicitly pops up to confront Paulie G's (malicious) male one. “Paulie G wrote a scene where you blow him?," she asks. Val laughs it off, but with her reaction the power dynamic comes back into focus. She does not consider this scene real. She is struggling and suffering through it, though that comes with an understanding of what she must do to continue to survive in the industry.
MJ: That's it -- survival. In Season 1, desperation trumped survival because Valerie wasn't aware of what she was getting wrong. She didn't know how clueless she was about reality television, and she didn't know why she shouldn't be proud to be the veteran actress on a pathetic show like "Room and Bored." She spent the years in between feeling scorned, and now that she's staging another comeback, she has just enough self-awareness to enter survival mode. In the real world, we give that the humiliating label known as "staying relevant." That's why she storms into the HBO offices to put a halt to "Seeing Red," but it's also why she then accepts the role on "Seeing Red" -- because when approval arrives, even if it comes at a cost, Valerie becomes a Darwinian endurance test.
Enter the blow-job scene, where some of those semblances of self-awareness crumble but Valerie's survival mode doesn't. She's so married to the idea of fame as her source of happiness that she's convinced it's unfair not to give a writer (specifically Paulie G) what he wants when handed a script. In her mind, it's the only way to ensure job security. Like a lot of what she does, Valerie chooses not to think about what the blow-job scene means. The rub is when she looks up from Seth Rogen's crotch and glances embarrassedly at Jane's cameras, realizing they're capturing the moment without the sheen of post-production. She does her best to conceal the mortification, because that's what she's best at: convincing herself that things aren't as heinous as they seem. It's moments like that, where all these thoughts (and non-thoughts) pass across Kudrow's face and we understand exactly what she's experiencing, that makes you realize the brilliance you're witnessing.
LD: That, I think, is much of the crux of Kudrow's brilliance. The way she balances Val's cluelessness with an almost savant-like understanding of what it means to be a woman in Hollywood. Although, even in light of that, she always seems to come out damaged in someway.
MJ: What I don't understand is how an awards group like the HFPA is able to latch onto the same type of female leads that HBO loves yet snub Kudrow. All of the network's female-centric comedies revolve around a woman who takes one misstep after the next, encounters unfortunate luck at every turn and typically walks away with a "winner" stamp on her forehead anyway. Case in point: Selina Meyer on "Veep," Amy Jellicoe on "Enlightened" and Hannah Horvath on "Girls" -- roles that resulted in Golden Globe wins for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Laura Dern and Lena Dunham, respectively, in the very category Kudrow should have prevailed at Sunday's awards. The same characteristics apply to Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney) on "The Big C" and Tara Gregson (Toni Collette) on "United States of Tara," two Globe-winning roles that hail from Showtime.
The "Comeback" ratings were troubled in Season 1, and even with a fresh cult audience, Season 2 didn't fare any better. Still, the ratings on "Enlightened" were never any good, either, and "Girls" is lucky if an episode attracts 1 million viewers. HFPA voters either committed the sin of not watching "The Comeback," or they were too turned off by the cringe comedy, which really does surpass all of the aforementioned shows. Globe nominations came out before the season finale, when Valerie (and viewers) got the redemption she (we) desperately needed. I have to believe the hardball approach of the second half of the season, with Mickey's health woes and Val's crumbling marriage, put it on another level. And how unfortunate is that?
LD: Unfortunate and so interesting -- the intensification of the cringe comedy by the very fact that Val is always losing is possibly the crux of why Kudrow has been (wrongfully) ignored. Maybe the HFPA hasn't responded because the uplifting lesson-learning charm of comedy was stripped bare until that beautiful relief of a finale. The end of Season 2 arc (into the penultimate episode) took things to disturbing new heights. Val's lack of awareness is smacked on like a gut punch, experienced by the audience and the character in tandem. Malin Åkerman's return cameo functions so well in driving that home. As we realize in horror through their conversation, Val truly doesn't realize how sick Mickey is. She can't acknowledge she is losing her husband. That is a very different level of the ditzy disconnect than something like her comparing giving an on-screen blow job to playing "a brunette with migraines" (or any other absurdly clueless comment). It does seem like that is what separates "The Comeback" from that trend of otherwise awarded female characters (Selena, Hannah, Amy) who can also be clueless and selfish for the sake of comedy, but manage to win sometimes.
MJ: Right, and Selena, Hannah and Amy (particularly Selena, who has the most power but is also arguably the most self-absorbed) usually prevail, even if we wince along the way. Since Valerie almost never wins, we the viewers have to make peace with a show that doesn't appear to treat its lead character very well. I know we shouldn't reduce that to whether the voting body responsible for a middlebrow award show responds to the material, but there certainly wasn't a comedy as layered as "The Comeback" anywhere else on television last year. It can take a little extra work to appreciate certain aspects of the show but a group that has favored edgy programs like "Roseanne," "Sex and the City," and now "Transparent," should see the value in this achievement.
LD: Right. And the way the season finale could so easily function as a series finale probably means Kudrow will never get the recognition she deserves. Alas. Maybe they'll figure it out in nine more years, when the "Comeback" comeback comes back.