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Kudrow’s 'Comeback’ Not Up To HBO Standard

5/29/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

With apologies to rapper LL Cool J, don’t call Lisa Kudrow’s new Home Box Office comedy a Comeback. The premise has been here for years.

A faux reality show spin on the faux-documentary genre that has been seen in such big-screen productions as This Is Spinal Tap and small-screen outings like Tenacious D, The Comeback features former Friends star Kudrow as Valerie Cherish. The fortysomething ’80s network sitcom star was once TV’s “It” girl, the star of I’m It. Now, she’s vying to revive her career as a cast member in Room and Bored.

The Bored sitcom job comes with a reality show, and that’s what viewers are purportedly seeing as they watch the HBO entry. It cuts across all aspects of Valerie’s existence, from her home life with her out-of-the-business husband and stepdaughter, to time on the Room and Bored set.

The pilot shows the audition process — with cameos by Marilu Henner (Taxi) and Kim Fields (Facts of Life, Living Single), vying for the same role as Valerie. She finds out both have also been offered the reality show — the first in a series of small humiliations that make up most of The Comeback’s plot points.

Initially, Valerie is supposed to play the older architect mentor to several sexy singles living in a Malibu beach house, but the show is quickly rewritten to cast her as matronly “Aunt Sassy.” Her wardrobe is changed from power suits to a frumpy pink jumpsuit and she’s made to stand at arm’s length from the other actors in the publicity photos.

Valerie’s lowered status and her inability to deal with it is the entire show — in the second episode, during the upfront presentation Valerie struggles to fit in with her 20-something co-stars, stressing over whether she’ll get a speaking part when Room and Bored gets its turn on the dais.

Unfortunately, Kudrow’s performance isn’t quite as engaging as her past turns on Friends and in film. And the supporting players are straight out of central casting: the ambiguously gay personal stylist; Juna (Malin Akerman) the sex kitten who Valerie sees as her biggest rival; and the Mexican housekeeper who doesn’t speak English very well.

Had The Comeback been a broadcast or basic-cable series, it might have stood out. But on HBO — especially with former Sex and the City co-executive producer Michael Patrick King on board in the same role — you would expect the show to reach a higher bar.

The Comeback premieres Sunday, June 5 at 9:30 p.m. on HBO.

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