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October 30, 2013

The Couch Potato: Kudrow makes a sensational ‘Comeback’

NEW CASTLE — During the summer of 1994, the Couch Potato was dutifully getting ready to enter the seventh grade as NBC prepared to launch one of its most successful shows of the 1990s.

I can vividly remember the promos for this sitcom that aired that summer, showing six sexy New York singles lounging around in their underwear, framed in black and white. As the voice-over seductively introduced this new show, presenting it as a soap opera type drama, one of the characters finally broke and asked the off-screen director, “Wait, we’re not going to be in our underwear, are we?”

That question was asked by David Schwimmer, uttering the first on-screen lines of character Ross Gellar from the show “Friends.” Of course, “Friends” would go on to run for 10 seasons and 238 episodes, establishing it as one of the most successful sitcoms of all time.

I was a fan of “Friends” pretty much from the beginning. It helped that radio stations and MTV could not get enough of the “Friends” theme song, “I’ll Be There For You,” by the extremely successful band “The Rembrandts.”

Oh wait, no, that was their only hit. Sorry.

But I was there as the show grew and became a full-scale hit and I enjoyed the ride. My sister owns all 10 seasons on VHS, yes VHS, and we used to watch them during the summer days when we were both home from college. I still remember watching the final episode in 2004, which ironically aired on the final night of my college career. It was a doubly sad experience for the old Couch Potato.

While I was a huge fan of the show, I never really got the character of Phoebe, played in a ditzy way by Lisa Kudrow. I wouldn’t say I hated the character, but I found her to be the least funny on the show. I never cared much for Kudrow’s delivery, and I found the character to be somewhat obnoxious.

To me, it was no surprise that in 2005, when Kudrow, along with “Sex and the City” producer Michael Patrick King, launched a new show, that it went away after 13 mostly unnoticed episodes on HBO.  

“The Comeback,” as it was called, failed to gain an audience and was unceremoniously canceled, despite its primo time slot right after the HBO hit “Entourage.”

I never had seen an episode of “The Comeback,” but every once in a while I would hear how brilliant it was and what a shame that it had been canceled. Because of this buzz, late appearing as it may have been, I added the show to my Netflix queue sometime last year.

Well, it finally worked its way up my queue and this past week, I received two discs containing all 13 episodes in the mail. I couldn’t believe I was going to dive into this canceled show, featuring a star that I never found to be funny.

What a mistake!

The show turned out to be hilarious and one of the best and most cleverly written comedies I have ever seen.

Kudrow plays Valerie Cherish, a former sitcom star from the early 90s (fake) hit “I’m It!” Since the show was canceled in 1993, Cherish hasn’t worked much, but in the present (2005), she is attempting to make a “comeback” by booking a role on a new (fake) show called “Room and Bored,” all while documenting the “comeback” on a reality show called, you guessed it, “The Comeback.” Viewers are informed that they are watching raw footage of the “The Comeback” reality show before each episode begins.

I highly recommend watching this show for a number of reasons. First, it is an extremely well done satire of reality television. Valerie Cherish is constantly giving her producer and cameras the timeout symbol when something happens that she does not want to be used on the show. They are constantly awkwardly re-staging events when they don't get the right angle so it still appears to be "reality."

Secondly, Kudrow redeems herself in this role with a truly multifaceted performance. She has the ability to make Cherish endearing and sympathetic, even though she is quite shallow and fake. Kudrow takes a character that has low self-awareness and commits countless faux pas because of it, and somehow makes her likeable and funny.

Finally, like "Entourage," the show gives the viewer a chance to go behind the scenes in Hollywood. We see how things really work, such as the machinations of scripts, rewrites and castings that drive show business forward.

Give "The Comeback" a chance.

Kudrow did, and she shines because of it.


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