Lisa Kudrow's new HBO comedy, The Comeback (8:30 p.m. Sundays), reminds me of The Office. I mean that in the best sense.
Post-Phoebe, in 'The Comeback' Lisa Kudrow gets to experiment with a fully rounded character.
The ex-Friend stars as a vain, has-been TV actress named Valerie Cherish who's so desperate for attention that she agrees to participate in a reality show called The Comeback, which documents her return to network television after 13 years. As part of her comeback, Valerie must audition and beat out Marilu Henner and Kim Fields for a role on a sitcom called Room and Bored, about four sexy singles sharing a beachfront apartment. (Valerie is horribly miscast, then recast as the perfectly named aunt/landlord, Aunt Sassy.)
What we see, in addition to a bad sitcom being made, is Valerie trying to impress. The harder she tries, the more self-aggrandizing she appears.
Like The Office, most of the humor emanates from pain and humiliation, which can be tough to watch. In one of the show's many memorable moments, Valerie finds herself at the airport ticket counter, ready to fly to New York, where the network will introduce Room and Bored to advertisers. There, Valerie discovers that the network has neglected to buy a ticket for her personal hairdresser, Mickey (Robert Michael Morris), leaving her with a choice: Pony up $4,500 for his ticket, like any star would, but someone who hasn't worked in years really can't afford to do, or be embarrassed.
No longer stuck as the predictably ditzy Phoebe Buffay, Kudrow gets to experiment with a fully rounded character whose ego, vanity, fear of aging and need to save face make her both pathetic and sympathetic. Wearing a pained smile much of the time, even when being cut down to size brilliantly by Room and Bored writer Paulie G (Lance Barber), she handles the role superbly.
The Comeback isn't always so subtle. The funniest part of the first two episodes is its parody of other network reality shows, one of which, America's Next Great Porn Star, requires contestants to carry a mouthful of crème fresh up five flights of stairs, then spit it into a bucket.
But whichever way you like your humor, you'll find it in The Comeback. Paired with the return of the excellent, highly underrated Entourage (8 p.m. Sundays) - which begins its second season with Vincent trying to decide whether to star in Aquaman - it makes for an absolutely winning hour for HBO.