If you want to quote The Comeback, you have an arsenal at your disposal. Chances are you’ll go with, “I don’t need to see that!”, or perhaps a simple “Hello, hello, hello!”
But nothing is more signature Valerie Cherish than crossing your hands into a “T” and protesting: “Jane! Jane!” (Best followed by a “We’re not going to be able to use that!”)
Episode Two of The Comeback‘s new season brings Laura Silverman’s Jane back into the fold in a big way, as someone at HBO suggests that she be asked to return to produce… whatever Val is filmng. (Val calls it “BTS for SR,” meaning behind-the-scenes for Seeing Red, though she was filming that even before she knew about Paulie G’s HBO series.) Jane isn’t interested, but that doesn’t stop Val from relentlessly pursuing her, because as Jane herself puts it: “You never give up.” (Val’s response: “You do.”)
But Valerie’s right. Jane has changed. When we met her, she was young and ambitious and determined to get the most demeaning footage of Val at any cost. She wasn’t a malicious person, but she knew that the success of her reality show rested on Val going down on the Room & Bored ship. (Of course, the fact that we knew so little about her reflected how often self-involved Valerie thought about Jane’s personal life — never.)
When we meet her in “Valerie Tries To Get Yesterday Back,” Jane is a wealthy but bitter lesbian who lives in isolation making goat butter, trying to finance issue-driven documentaries, finding little success or satisfaction despite the fact that she’s an Academy Award winner. She’s also, not so surprisingly, a big pothead. Season One’s Jane was always in the background, but she played a relatively small part in the action until the final episode when Val finally confronted her (dubbing her “spider-eyes” and showing up at Jane’s pad with the camera crew, trying to give her a taste of her own medicine). By the end of this episode, Jane is back behind the camera, mostly invisible but steering the ship when needed.HBO also gets a chance to poke itself in the ribs as Valerie visits the offices and declares that Sex & The City started it all… then declaring that The Sopranos also started it all… then looking at a poster for The Wire and declaring that she’s never heard of it. It’s a series of in-jokes about the network’s legacy (as chronicled by the book Difficult Men, which I just finished, which focuses extensively on The Sopranos and The Wire, only fleetingly mentions Sex & The City, and does not even mention The Comeback). Val also mistakes Mad Men for an HBO show, as many do; these are jokes that many people outside of the TV business might miss out on, but that’s how The Comeback has always worked. General audiences could miss about 50% of the humor; luckily, there’s such a high humor quota that they’ll still get plenty. Valerie’s so very excited to be a part of HBO’s prestige, and yet clearly is only glancingly familiar with their properties. (Anyone who thinks I’m It was a television classic is bound to have a lower threshold for quality.)
“Valerie Tries To Get Yesterday Back” also sees Val meeting with Brad Goreski, a fellow reality TV personality, to dress for the Golden Globes, which she intends to attend with her husband, her hairdresser, and her publicist. Instead, she and Mark end up with Jane and the camera in tow at a mere “HBO viewing party” (a room full of women who may or may not be Russian hookers), where they have an awkward run-in with Paulie G.
“Valerie Tries To Get Yesterday Back” is a bit scattered in its focus compared to other Comeback episodes. The HBO stuff is savvy and hilarious, and seeing Valerie share a doobie with Jane is sort of like Season One fan fiction come to life. (There’s got to be some Val/Jane slash fiction out there somewhere on the internet, right?) From there, though, Jane disappears behind the cameras again and the focus is on the Golden Globes visit, which is played a shade darker than The Comeback usually is, as Paulie G apologizes to Valerie while still clearly wanting to see as little of her as possible.
The episode’s funniest moments are the throwaway gags, like Val’s housekeeper realizing that Val is about to ditch Mickey and Billy to have her cameras with her at the Globes, or Val stating that she’s “hogging the Bogart” by taking too long with the joint at Jane’s place. I watched this episode several times, and it did indeed get funnier upon each viewing, as this show tends to do. The humor is so subtle at times that I don’t pick up on a joke until the third viewing.
While Season Two of The Comeback still mostly feels like Season One, there is one crucial difference thus far — Valerie is less desperate for her comeback. She still wants to be on top of the world, but she doesn’t really need this the same way she used to. The show-within-the-show Comeback earned her that validation. And now, with Val in charge of her own crew, she’s much less worried about the cameras picking up her most awkward and vulnerable moments. There’s less looking at the camera, wondering how all this will be perceived. There are no “Jane! Jane!” time-outs, because Valerie is (sort of) in control of her own destiny this time around.
It’s an interesting switch, but it does deflate the momentum a bit. Season One episodes tended to revolve around a clear goal for Val. This episode didn’t so much have that. Valerie tries on a somewhat outrageous dress, but she isn’t talked into actually wearing it to the Globes; she’s disappointed that she ends up at a viewing party, but she and Mark leave without much of a fuss. “Valerie Tries To Get Yesterday Back” sure has its highlights, but hopefully the second coming continues to move forward in addition to revisiting comedic high points from the first season. Is it too much to ask for a new character for Season Two as dynamic as Mickey, or Juna, or Gigi? What is Val really up against this season?
I’m satisfied enough for the time being, but I hope the next episode sees the resurgence of something we need even more than the return of Jane the Jewish lesbian. This time, it’s Val’s dire desperation that needs a comeback.