decadelong romp as Phoebe Buffay on "Friends," Kudrow returned
to series TV in June with "The Comeback," where she plays a
faded sitcom star trying to rekindle her career.
Kudrow is splendid
as Valerie Cherish, who, despite her beauty, bucks and
reliable marriage, feels perilously insecure. Thanks to Kudrow,
Valerie is a restless blend -- self-deluding yet crafty,
fragile yet driven to renew her celebrity while being snubbed
at every turn.
In short, she is
night-and-day from Phoebe, a freewheeling ditz who everybody
But some viewers
remain stuck in Kudrow's past while taking her new comedy a
little too seriously. For them, she maybe did her job too well
portraying Phoebe. And now she imbues Valerie with sufficient
authenticity to feed suspicions that somehow "The Comeback"
smacks of autobiography.
aren't sure what to make of it," Kudrow allows.
its 13-episode season, "The Comeback" (10:30 p.m. EDT Sundays
on HBO, with repeats during the week) warrants a new look from
those unsure viewers, to be measured on its own special terms.
And on Valerie's.
In the early 1990s she had tasted fame on a cheesy sitcom
called "I'm It," then disappeared. Now the 40-ish has-been is
still telling herself that, even in an industry ruled by short
memories and youth obsession, lightning can strike again. She
has set herself up as a lightning rod for the indignities and
cruelty of show biz.
might as well be wearing a "Kick Me" sign. Which is very funny
to behold. Also painful.
says Kudrow, "is that this woman needs something, and has
expectations, that cannot be fully realized. And to keep
herself in such an unforgiving environment, she goes back and
forth between being really strong, and stupid about what her
In the spotlight
On a recent
episode, Valerie got a major setback. Her comeback bid -- a
piece of dreck called "Room and Bored," on which she had
already been marginalized to supporting-player status as a
character named Aunt Sassy -- was shut down by the network for
"That's TV for
you," Valerie chirps, her forced smile fully flexed -- "if it
ain't broke, then break it, and then fix it."
She still has her reality show, which was created to track her
as she launched her sitcom. At least she still has that
Thus does HBO's
"The Comeback" examine the mad pursuit of fame. But it is an
urge to which Kudrow, however famous, happens to be immune.
"The Comeback" with Michael Patrick King ("Sex and the City")
and despite its being packaged as if a rough cut of Valerie's
reality show, it in fact is meticulously crafted and scripted
to get it to look spontaneous," says Kudrow. "That's tricky to
On the other hand,
capturing the essence of Valerie (who had her first stirrings
as a character invented by Kudrow years ago while a member of
the Groundlings improv troupe) was "almost the easiest thing
I've ever done.