"We wanted to give the fans some crack. Some Valerie Cherish crack. Lots of it. Fast and furious."
Michael Patrick King couldn't have described his Comeback mission statement any better, and it's precisely what he and his writing team have accomplished with season two, premiering Sunday on HBO.
Nine years after the short-lived Lisa Kudrow comedy was tragically canceled, The Comeback is back for eight new episodes, in which Lisa's Valerie Cherish (an aging, self-consumed actress) scores a role playing the worst possible version of herself in an HBO series, opposite Seth Rogen, who is hilariously playing her heroin-addicted producer Paulie G.
For the first time in my TV-obsessing career, I actually don't want to say how much I love these episodes, because I can't find the words, I don't want to overhype, and I want everyone to experience them without any inflated expectations. Just know this: My abs are legitimately sore as I write this from watching episodes 3-5 on repeat last night.
If you cringe a little less and laugh a little more while watching the second season of The Comeback: You are not alone.
Any diehard fan will tell you, when The Comeback first premiered in 2005, the world was not quite ready for Valerie Cherish. The Comeback's brand of humiliation humor didn't sit well with some viewers—it simply made them feel too uncomfortable—but that dynamic has shifted.
Here, executive producer Michael Patrick King explains why, and how all of Bravo's Real Housewives shows (and tragedies) helped pave the way for Valerie's triumphant return…
I'm sure you've heard that the first season of The Comeback made some people feel uncomfortable. In what I've seen so far of season two, there don't seem to be quite as many hard-core cringe moments. Were you mindful of softening the humiliation?
What's the interesting thing about Valerie and the whole first incarnation is people had that cringe factor. We couldn't figure out why people were pulling away. And over the 9 years we've had this thought, that it was just so naked. Now everybody's a little bit Valerie. Everybody's spinning their Instagrams and their Facebook page. Look where I went last night. Look where I ate. Look who I know. Everybody's a little bit more loving of the idea of you spinning your own reality. That's all Valerie is trying to do. Shape what you think of her. And it was important in this season, that everything evolve. Everything Lisa and I want to do is about evolving. The more you know someone, the more you see other parts of them. this is the second round with her and 9 years later. If nothing had changed in 9 years that would have been a tragedy. But because a little bit changed, it's a comedy tragedy.
She seems like less of a victim now.
You know what's interesting, Lisa [Kudrow] and I just this morning had a realization while we were talking. Because everybody keeps saying "something's different about the second season," and Lisa and I realized this morning that in season one, Valerie was looking at the camera like it was a gun, or she was afraid of people seeing her, and in this season, because she's in charge, she's almost looking at the audience like a tour guide and telling them everything's gonna be OK. She's actually talking to the audience in this incarnation. The last time, she was trying not to talk to them. I don't know if that makes people feel safer or more comfortable, or everybody's more comfortable with humiliation everywhere. I mean no matter what Valerie's doing this season, it's certainly not as bad as what they do on a Housewives reunion. No one has pushed her to the ground and pulled her hair. Marky Mark hasn't killed himself.
True. We've seen so many awful things on the Housewives alone.
The world is much more broken glass than it was nine years ago. People have seen some very dark stuff on TV. So the fact that real reality TV, if that's possible to use that phrase, has gotten so aggressively painful that families are splitting up and going to jail, it's easier to watch Valerie. She feels sane.
Looking back, Valerie having to wear a cupcake suit doesn't seem all that bad.
It doesn't. But it's really a character piece, and so what is so upsetting about Valerie is you feel her, everything about her, so when she's humiliated by being in a cupcake suit, you feel it, and you want to look away. It's like you want to look away because something is believable there, because it makes you feel bad. And that's a great testament to anything. If you can create something where people actually believe someone's in jeopardy, and then actually get that same person to joy occasionally, that's really fun. It's almost emotionally interactive with the audience. You decide what you feel now.
Your fellow producer Dan Bucatinsky had a quote in Buzzfeed about how misogyny exists in this industry and that the audience at the time couldn't handle a woman doing humiliation humor. Do you feel like there's any truth to that?
Here's the thing, I was coming from many years of writing Sex and the City, and there was an enormous amount of pain in Sex and the City, and there was an enormous amount of rejection and humiliation, but it was dressed up. It wasn't so naked. It was revolving around relationships and men, and what happens with men and women and that was understandable. What no one had ever seen was a woman doing this to herself, so I don't know if it's misogynist or whether it's just the first time you saw that character.
How happy are you with how these episodes turned out?
All I know is it's exactly what Lisa and I wanted to do. You have a creative impulse and you go with it and if people respond to it, then that's fantastic.