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2005: Why The Comeback Is Michael Patrick King’s True Triumph

The Comeback

For 25 yearsOUT has celebrated queer culture. To mark our silver jubilee, we look back at some of the biggest, brightest moments of the past 9,131 days.

When The Comeback premiered on June 5, 2005, hardly anyone knew what to do with it—including HBO, which canceled the satirical meta-comedy after its initial 13-episode run. The show and its leading lady, the indomitable Valerie Cherish (brilliantly portrayed by Lisa Kudrow), did, however, find a very small, very loyal, and very gay fan base. As the years went by and reality television morphed into the monster the series anticipated it would become, The Comeback ripened into a cult classic. And in 2014, Val got the comeback she deserved with a more tautly conceived and executed second season.

After both of their insanely popular, zeitgeist-defining, award-winning shows came to an end, Sex and the City scribe Michael Patrick King and Friends alum Lisa Kudrow tried their hands at something drastically different: Washed-up ’90s TV star Valerie Cherish (of I’m It! “fame”) signs on to a reality show that follows her attempts to mount a return to prime time on the subpar sitcom Room and Bored. Valerie’s desperation and the lengths to which she would go to reclaim her former glory were cringeworthy, and the show-within-a-show conceit was perhaps too confusing for viewers, who took Val’s RaB catchphrase—“I don’t need to see that!”—to heart.

For the part of Mickey, Val’s hopelessly devoted hairdresser and confidante, King cast his high school theater teacher and mentor, Robert Michael Morris. Sadly, Morris died in May of this year, but his beloved role as Mickey provided him with a fitting final act, as one of several queer characters Val turns to for support: Laura Silverman’s Jane produces Val’s reality show, and in season two comes out as a lesbian; Dan Bucatinsky’s Billy is her high-strung and long-suffering manager; and in the season-two premiere, real-life Val Cherish superfans Andy Cohen and RuPaul make memorable cameos.

The impeccable finale of the second season, “Valerie Gets What She Really Wants,” written by King and Kudrow, is one of the most richly rewarding TV episodes in recent memory. In a spasm of self-actualization, Val abandons her crowning moment—a win at the Emmys—and the documentary crew following her, to be with an ailing Mickey. The show switches from cinema verité to cinematic as we finally witness the real Valerie Cherish, away from the gaze of the camera. Kudrow’s performance, Emmy-nominated for both seasons, is nothing short of a revelation.

The best news: Kudrow and King—and HBO—are open to a third season of The Comeback, so this may not be the end of Valerie Cherish. Because we don’t need to see that!

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