‘The Comeback’ Reviews: Lisa Kudrow’s Reality TV Satire Is ‘Biting,’ ‘Brilliant’ and ‘Breathtaking’

Critics praise Lisa Kudrow’s “ahead of its time” HBO comedy, saying that entertainment has finally caught up to the groundbreaking show

Lisa Kudrow in "The Comeback"

(Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you have not yet seen the Season 2 premiere of HBO’s “The Comeback” entitled “Valerie Makes a Pilot.”)

Lisa Kudrow makes a case for being one of the hardest working women in show business with the debut of her second concurrent series. While “Web Therapy” continues on Showtime, HBO launched the long-awaited return of “The Comeback,” Kudrow’s one-season wonder from 2005.

Created by Kudrow and Michael Patrick King (“Sex and the City”), “The Comeback” took a look at the exploding reality television format, as well as the challenges of being a middle-aged woman in Hollywood. The show was on the forefront of entertainment, properly anticipating the explosion of reality TV like the “Real Housewives” franchise on Bravo and its ilk.

TheWrap’s own Mekeisha Madden Toby lauded the sitcom return, declaring it ahead of its time when it debuted. This time, though, she sees great things ahead for both the show and its star, Lisa Kudrow, for whom she predicts an Emmy.

“Blame it on low ratings, being ahead of its time or an unfair comparison to its time-slot neighbor, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ but ‘The Comeback’ never took off the way it should have,” she wrote. “That will likely change when the second season debuts Sunday, nearly a decade after Kudrow’s narcissistic but well-meaning character Valerie Cherish waved goodbye. Upon the show’s eight-episode return, expect a lot more depth, social and industry mockery and uncomfortable but brilliant laughs from Kudrow and wonderfully cast guest stars such as Seth RogenAndy Cohen and RuPaul.

Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker fully embraced the “meta” elements of the show’s comeback, praising the fictionalized show-within-the-show that actually chronicles the events of “The Comeback’s” first season. But standing tall and proud at the center is Kudrow’s Valerie Cherish.

“The original ‘Comeback’ may have emerged too early, before the rise of the alienating heroine, from Mindy Lahiri to Carrie Mathison, Hannah Horvath, and Olivia Pope,” she wrote. “Even among this sorority, however, Valerie stands apart. With her Katharine Hepburn warble and her synthetic grin, Kudrow’s Valerie is a marvel: the performance veers toward cruel camp, then shivers with vulnerability. Like Holly Golightly, Valerie is no phony, because she’s a real phony. From a certain angle, even her narcissism begins to seem valiant–a stubborn resistance to an industry that wishes she’d disappear. In Valerie’s lifelong staring contest with the camera, she won’t be the first to blink.”

Michael Slezak of TVLine was mesmerized by the show, heaping praise on Kudrow. As several other reviewers did as well, he paid particular notice to Kudrow’s performance of Cherish giving a cold read for the part written about her by her former “Room & Bored” costar Paulie G (Lance Barber).

“Kudrow is so breathtaking at the episode’s crescendo … that it’s hard to breathe as you watch it,” he wrote of her monologue. “‘You think I’m this dried-up, middle-aged woman. Look at the jokes you write, look at the track suit you make me wear — all saying the same thing: I’m old, I’m annoying, I’m un-f-ckable.” (This is what Valerie felt while filming ‘Room & Bored’ 10 years prior, and 10 years later — despite still enjoying a healthy sex life with her husband, despite still being a beautiful woman with real value in the real world, she has accepted this is her lot in Hollywood. And as a result, the words coming out of her mouth here ring like only the vicious, vicious truth can.)”

The A.V. Club’s Oliver Sava echoed the sentiment that Season 1 was ahead of its time, opening his review with the remark, “After nine years, the entertainment industry has caught up to Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King’s ‘The Comeback.’”

It was a biting satire of how Hollywood treats middle-aged women, rooted in a brilliant performance from Kudrow that turned a caricature into a multi-dimensional person forced to choose between her desire for fame and her dignity,” he wrote. “And almost a decade later, Valerie Cherish (Kudrow) is put in that position again. ‘The Comeback’ has finally returned for a second season, and it hasn’t lost any of the magic that made the first season so remarkable.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Melissa Maerz admitted that she was no fan of “The Comeback” when it premiered in 2005, but went so far as to admit she was wrong in the headline for her review of the second season. Even more, she was surprised at how much the show challenged her, then and now.

“It dares to truly implicate everyone-the actors, the writers, and especially the viewers-for allowing Hollywood to demean people, for actually creating a market for it. In one episode, Valerie is forced to act out a scene in which Mitch, high on heroin, actually tries to shoot Mallory. Trying to comfort Valerie, someone on set tells her that all TV writers want to kill their lead actors. Consider that for a second: one of ‘The Comeback’s’ writers wrote that line for Kudrow to hear. So who’s more passive-aggressive: the writer for writing that joke, or me for feeling no qualms about laughing at it?”

“The Comeback” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on HBO. Meanwhile, Lisa Kudrow can also be seen starring in “Web Therapy,” Wednesdays at 11 p.m. ET on Showtime.