In Lisa Kudrow’s new premium-cable series, The Comeback, the former Friends star asks us to believe that she is Valerie Cherish, a 40-year-old Beverly Hills TV has-been/stepmom simultaneously auditioning for a part in a new situation comedy and being tracked by bellicose cameras for a reality program about a TV has-been/stepmom desperate to return to the small screen. Thus we watch Valerie kiss her husband good-bye, talk to her maid and her cell phone, show us her TV Guide cover, her People’s Choice Award, and a snapshot of her appearance on the Tonight Show with a monkey on her head, and then drive by road-rage freeway to a Burbank studio where her hair will be dressed, her body ridiculed, and her lines cut, while the other actresses are in bikinis, if not Pampers. And even when Valerie wins a part, it’s as the older killjoy aunt. Then she gets to fly to New York to be humiliated at the network “upfronts.”
The Comeback is immediately preceded Sunday nights on HBO by what would seem to be an ideal lead-in: A second batch of episodes of Entourage, in which hot young Hollywood actor Vince (Adrian Grenier) imports three neighborhood buddies from Queens—Eric (Kevin Connolly), Drama (Kevin Dillon), and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara)—to keep himself grounded and “real” in a world of late-night pool parties and prowlers. Among the denizens: Jeremy Piven as Vince’s agent and Debi Mazar as his publicist, along with celebrity cameos from Ralph Macchio, Pauly Shore, and Hugh Hefner. Only if Vince agrees to star in Aquaman, dressed up to look like “an underwater Elton John,” will he and his rowdy posse be able to afford the $5 million Marlon Brando mansion they have already moved into. And what if James Cameron casts Leonardo DiCaprio instead of Vince as Aquaman?
I am long past minding TV programs about TV programs, or TV programs about movies, or movies about TV programs. I don’t even care if this reflexive incestuousness is postmodern. Back in the Pleistocene epoch, when I started reviewing movies for a television show, I planned to mention on-air that the EPK (electronic press kit) for a big-budget film omitted any scenes in which the actors were actually acting. A producer for the show tossed the EPK kvetch back at me: “Nobody cares if the hot dogs are cold in the press box,” he said. His point was that no one cared about the problems of a talking head paid to go to movies, or, for that matter, an actor looking for his Inner Method. But try telling the theater not to contemplate itself, from Hamlet to A Chorus Line. Or Hollywood, from Singin’ in the Rain to The Player. Or television, from Mary Tyler Moore to Murphy Brown. Not to mention all those novelists who went West to make money and ended up writing novels about making movies, from Nathanael West and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Joan Didion and Robert Stone.
No, what I mind is that someone as smart as Lisa Kudrow must suffer excruciating embarrassment unto shame and mortification to amuse us. What kind of reality is this supposed to be—some shunning ceremony among Amazon Indians in the fevered imagination of Claude Lévi-Strauss? Are the producers of television programs so insensate as not to have noticed that over-forties like Meg Ryan and Mary-Louise Parker are to the teenybopper pop tart what Matisse is to crayons? How come nobody makes jokes about Kevin Dillon’s body? All he ever seems to worry about on Entourage is how to get into Hugh Hefner’s mansion and the first available Playmate. And let me mind something else: Where is it written in the Code of the Sitcom or its Origin Myth that Queens is for foul-mouthed jerks? I did time at P.S. 69 in Jackson Heights, and at Bryant High School in Astoria, and we wrote poems against the hydrogen bomb, and when you prick us, we, too, bleed.