Review: 'The Comeback' - 'Valerie Is Brought to Her Knees'
Credit: HBO

Review: 'The Comeback' - 'Valerie Is Brought to Her Knees'

Seth Rogen comes to Valerie Cherish's rescue

A major, unanswered question this season of "The Comeback" has been what exactly is motivating Paulie G., why he created an HBO dramedy to depict his experience writing a short-lived sitcom. Episode three didn't answer that question, but it did underline it with a very disturbing scene that Paulie G. wrote into his new series: Valerie's character performing oral sex on Paulie G.'s character.

While that never actually happened, as Valerie Cherish and eventually Paulie G. acknowledge, it's written as Paulie G.'s fantasy, which may very well have happened. Either Paulie G. did once fantasize about Valerie in the past, or he's using that to humiliate her in the present; both are disturbing.

Seth Rogen, playing Paulie G's character on "Seeing Red," is the only person who recognizes how demeaning this scene is for Valerie, and how much she really does not want to do it. He stops it by suggesting that he can sell the scene and it can be shot without her needing to be visible. (Because she's Valerie Cherish, she ends up in perhaps an even more embarrassing position, her head on his lap, out of the frame, as he fakes his own orgasm.)

Maybe he's the only person with the power to do that, since Val does ask Paulie G. how to play the scene, and ends up suggesting that she could do it "eager, reluctant, [or] not at all." She doesn't stand up for herself more than that, though, having previously acknowledged to Paulie G. how much she needs this show to work, just as he admitted to her the same thing.

Seth Rogen is not the only person who shows Valerie respect this episode -- Jane is particularly forthcoming about how exploitative she thinks all this is, which is very out-of-character for her -- but Seth Rogen is remarkably perceptive about everything while still being jokey. He notices Paulie G. giving Valerie a look and calls him on it, which puts him on the side of the audience/camera crew.

Rogen, the rela-life actor (not the actor-as-character), plays this version of himself remarkably well. So many of these types of cameos end up being exaggerated, obnoxious versions of an actor, who clearly has fun playing a jerky version of him- or herself. Here, it's the opposite, but Rogen plays himself with restraint and humanity so his character doesn't come off like as one designed to make the real-life actor look good.

It just feels real and genuine, like you could imagine Seth Rogen in this actual position. And there's fun interaction between his character and Lisa Kudrow's Valerie Cherish, who is, as usual, trying to impress others.

What didn't feel as real was the scene in which Valerie had to stand in her "Room and Bored" track suit between two fully naked porn stars, who were making orgasm sounds. That seemed to serve no actual purpose for "Seeing Red" other than to humiliate her and degrade the women; perhaps the same could be said for "The Comeback" using that scene. Do we really need to humiliate Valerie this much? Is this much awkwardness necessary? We get it.

Now that "The Comeback" season two has arrived on the set of "Seeing Red," the show felt more grounded than it did in the first two episodes -- but it also felt like it found very familiar territory to settle on for its themes. How much humiliation with Valerie Cherish subject herself to to earn some respect? Can she prove that she's more than who Paulie G. thinks she is? Will the ever-present camera crew undercut her efforts?

"The Comeback" season one did those things so well, I'm not sure why "The Comeback" season two is trying, unless it's trying to prove that nothing really changes. But like Paulie G., its motivations are still unclear.

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Cameron Diaz, Mark Ronson, and Bruno Mars

Cameron Diaz, Mark Ronson, and Bruno Mars

Credit: NBC

Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' – Cameron Diaz And Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars

The "Annie" star returns for her fourth hosting gig

In Cameron Diaz, “Saturday Night Live” has its second consecutive host making an appearance after a lengthy absence. Although Diaz has hosted the show three times before, this is her first time doing so since 2005. Will there be “Annie” sketches? Probably! Will there be a Jamie Foxx and/or Quvenzhané Wallis cameo? Possibly! Will Bruno Mars make an in-sketch appearance in addition to his musical role tonight? Likely! Will this be an exciting episode or one that puts audiences to sleep faster than Thanksgiving dinner? Who knows!

As always, I’ll be liveblogging the show in real time, assigning grades to each segment. As always, I’ll remind you that comedy is subjective and the grades don’t have any more power than you allow them to have. As always, a few of you will ignore that last statement and quibble over a “B-“ versus a “B”. It’s cool. We can all hold hands and sing “Massachusetts Afternoon” together when it’s over.

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<p>Tuesday&#39;s &quot;Sons of Anarchy&quot;</p>

Tuesday's "Sons of Anarchy"

Credit: FX

Recap: 'Sons of Anarchy' - 'Suits of Woe'

Truths come out in a supersized episode that actually needed to be a supersized episode

Nerves got the better of you during Tuesday night’s nail-biting, reveal-all episode of “Sons of Anarchy?” Well light up them ciggies and let’s get joyriding because we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. 

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Sleepy Hollow - Mama
Credit: FOX

Recap: 'Sleepy Hollow' - No one ever talks about their 'Mama' issues

Tarrytown is in desperate need of a building inspection.

When we last left our heroes, the Scooby gang had just broken up again. Katrina was going back undercover as Abraham/Death’s Stockholm Syndrome girlfriend while Ichabod and Abbie continued the kabuki dance of pretending they don’t want to bone each other.

Also, I started helming the good ship Crawley — because Hawley and Ichabod are totally secretly pining for each other.

Did Katrina manage to murder that demon baby? Will the show keep enabling my new OTP? Let’s find out in tonight’s episode, “Mama.”


Through the power of dream visions, we are transported to foggy Victorian London and/or ancient Roman ruins. Abbie is disoriented — which is strange because you’d think she’d be used to the dream sequence cold open by now — but she's drawn to a disturbing singsong voice. “You Are My Sunshine” has never sounded creepier than right now, emanating from the monk robes of Abbie Mills’ dead mother.

Abbie is jolted awake just before we get a good look inside the robe. Which is probably for the best because never in the history of mankind has anything benevolent been inside a grim reaper cowl. Away from the vision Purgatory with her mother, Abbie can focus on mundane activities. Like quietly making fun of Ichabod Crane’s inability to open a pill bottle. 

Child and Revolutionary-proof caps. 

At some point Ichabod has come down with the crud, but he’s doing his level best to push through. Abbie is having none of it and tucks him in with a red plaid blanket and an admonishment to get some sleep. Then she’s off to go be a cop because Reyes needs her. Ichabod is put out but seriously, it is poor form to show up for work sick. Especially when you aren’t technically getting paid, so you have all the sick days in the world. 

P.S. Ichabod’s “I am sick, pity me” scarf is quite fetching.

Ever since the sting operation on the “satanic cult,” Reyes has backed off Abbie’s case. Apparently shutting down a group that is testing demon baby parasite via poison gets you brownie points with the skeptical, hard-ass police chief. Reyes even extends the most macabre olive branch ever: there have been three suicides in as many nights at Tarrytown. Reyes wants Abbie to investigate what’s really going on, even going so far as to say Mills’ personal connection to the tragedy might give her the edge. Also, if Reyes had assigned the case to someone else, she knows — correctly — that Abbie would’ve hounded her about it.

With Ichabod out of commission, Abbie calls in the reserves. Jenny has joined the party! If the Scooby gang was a fantasy party, what roles would they have? Abbie is the Red Mage, Jenny the Fighter, Ichabod the Scholar, Hawley the Thief, and Katrina the White Mage, yeah?

Anyway, Jenny agreed to help because she knows Tarrytown better than anyone. What with being involuntarily committed on and off for most of her adult life. As she explains that Tarrytown is a building full of pain and fear, the point is driven home by the “welcoming committee.” One of the patients — Walt — creepy lurches towards the sisters and gurgles incoherently before being led away by a nurse. Surely that’s the last we’ve seen of those characters and they’ll not reappear later in this episode in pivotal roles!

The ladies head directly to Captain Irving for information on the suicide victims. Irving only knew one of them — Nelson — a dude who suffered from paranoid delusions but had been on his meds and organizing prayer circles and generally acting like a man who wanted to live. Irving is also sure to mention he did not kill those people. The good Captain is still in control of his actions, if not his soul.

Sometime later, the sisters are sitting in front of an overwhelming number of monitors, each split into smaller monitors. They’re pouring over the Tarrytown surveillance footage, but unless they have ADHD I’m not sure how they’re focused on anything. Besides, don’t they know the names of the suicide victims and where they died? Why not just use the cameras from their bedrooms? Is it because it wouldn’t look like a cool CSI sequence? Be honest, that’s the reason.

In a moment of revelation decades in the making, Jenny admits that she once snuck into Tarrytown to visit their mom when she was a kid. Which means either Jenny was a break-in prodigy or psychiatric facilities are disconcertingly lax on security, despite having more cameras than a government black site. Jenny says her last memory of Mrs. Mills is of orderlies dragging her away while she screamed and freaked out. To add insult to injury, baby Jenny is even holding flowers while watching this scene in slack-jawed terror.

Abbie responds with a confession of her own. She always worried she’d end up crazy like their mom. And when Jenny ended up in Tarrytown, Abbie knew it was only a matter of time before the crazy genetics came home to roost. She’s determined to figure out what’s going on at Tarrytown because Abbie hopes it will help her understand why she was chosen to be a Witness.

There are leaps of faith and then there is blind, desperate groping for meaning. Your milage may vary as to which of the two Abbie’s hope is.

Sibling bonding over shared childhood trauma out of the way, the ladies finally realize cameras are room specific. Honing in on Nelson’s room around the time of the murder, they completely overlook that budget Nurse Ratchet from earlier was the last person to see him alive. Instead they focus on their dead mom’s ghost in the corner because neither of them have ever heard of a red herring.

Come on Jenny. You’re more genre savvy than this.

Okay, maybe Jenny is more savvy than I gave her credit for, because she went off to get the footage analyzed instead of taking it on faith that her crazy demon-hunted mother is back from the dead. Abbie is stuck babysitting a perplexed and still sickly Ichabod while this is going down. Crane is displeased by the lack of instantaneous results from his eucalyptus huffing. But that doesn’t stop him from pointing out to Abbie that of course none of the pills Tarrytown gave Mrs. Mills worked because Abbie’s mom wasn’t actually delusional.

The creepy shit she was seeing was real.

Suddenly, a flashback. The baby Mills sisters return home to a mother who is frazzled and clutching a baby doll. Mrs. Mills isn’t wearing a tin foil hat, but she HAS put yellowed newspaper over all the windows, which is only one step down on the “paranoid shut-in” barometer. However, her mantra to the girls of “Eyes open, Head up, Trust no one” is just good stranger danger advice. Most girls have heard a variation on this from their mothers. Only we’re looking out for potential assaulters and the Mills were on the look out for demons. 

Six of one, half dozen of the other.

Adult Abbie muses on why her mother’s ghost has returned now, after 15 years, to start killing Tarrytown patients. Her query is cut short by the arrival of my favorite person — Southern Gentleman Aquaman! Hawley comes bearing gifts: medicine, food, and books for research from the cabin.

Awwww, you guys. Hawley came to doctor an ailing Ichabod. CRAWLEY LIVES!

SGA also brought Matzah ball soup. At first Crane is dubious but quickly comes around to the strange yet delicious Jewish recipe. Hawley Jewish? Also, how cute is it that Ichabod tries to hide how pleased he is that SGA brought him soup? The fanfiction practically writes itself.

Sustained by the soup brought by his crush, Ichabod whips out Washington’s map — does he keep it next to his heart or something? — and posits a theory. Tarrytown is build on a leyline. Perhaps with Moloch returned to this mortal plane, he is somehow compelling Mrs. Mills to kill in order to torture Abbie and Jenny.

Sure, why not?

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<p>Lisa Kudrow on &#39;The Comeback&#39;</p>

Lisa Kudrow on 'The Comeback'

Credit: HBO

Jane returns to 'The Comeback' in the season's second episode

Valerie Cherish convinces her old producer to return

There's a lot of reluctance in episode two of "The Comeback." Valerie Cherish is reluctant to film her new HBO dramedy without being able to get plastic surgery first.

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Woody Harrelson, Kendrick Lamar, and Kate McKinnon

Woody Harrelson, Kendrick Lamar, and Kate McKinnon

Credit: NBC

Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' – Woody Harrelson and Kendrick Lamar

The star of 'The Hunger Games' and 'True Detective' gets back to his comedy roots

It’s been twenty-five years since Woody Harrelson originally hosted “Saturday Night Live,” and more than two decades since his last appearance on the show. In that time, he’s gone from "lovable bartender on 'Cheers'" to someone who is simultaneously part of one of Hollywood’s biggest film franchises (“The Hunger Games”) and co-lead in one of 2014’s most talked-about television shows (“True Detective”). What’s hosting a live sketch-comedy show on top of that already stuffed year? I’d be shocked to not see a parody of at least one (if not both) of those aforementioned pieces of pop culture, but mostly I want to see Harrelson let his comedy freak flag fly with this cast and see what happens.

As always, I’ll be grading in sketch in real time. As always, you shouldn’t worry too much about the grades. We’re all here because we love “SNL,” even if we don’t always love the same parts with equal vigor. Unless you’re just hear to say how the show hasn’t been funny in years, in which case, I give you a hearty Jebediah Atkinson-esque suggestion to read the NEXT article on this fine website.

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<p>The Vampire Diaries</p>

The Vampire Diaries

Credit: CW

'The Vampire Diaries' Recap: 'Do You Remember the First Time?'

Elena and Damon get to know each other again

Does anyone else out there need a glass or two of Chardonnay after Thursday night’s reference-filled episode of “The Vampire Diaries?” Or while we’re at it, anyone else itching to rewatch “10 Things I Hate About You” or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?”

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<p>Tuesday&#39;s &quot;Sons of Anarchy&quot;</p>

Tuesday's "Sons of Anarchy"

Credit: FX

Recap: 'Sons of Anarchy' - 'Faith and Despondency'

In the wake of a whole lotta lovin’, Abel acts out and Jax makes a big decision

Still up after that oh-so-long episode of “Sons of Anarchy?” Well tuck the kids in tight and be sure to hide all the forks because finally—finally the moment we’ve all been waiting for happened. 

Or, did it?

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Sleepy Hollow - Heartless
Credit: FOX

Recap: 'Sleepy Hollow' - The heroes could stand to be a little more 'Heartless'

Succubus mating habits are super weird, y'all.

After a last minute abortion last week — everyone calm down, it was a demonic abomination — Katrina has officially reunited with her husband and joined the team. But there are problems: Abbie is still solidly Team Kill Henry while the Cranes are vehemently against it. Ichabod doubts his wife, and Katrina now has to figure out how to live in the 21st century.

Can our expanding Scooby gang learn to get along, or will they remain “Heartless” towards each other?


The Cranes are sitting in bed, engaged in a modern day marriage ritual: watching reality television. Somehow they have gotten sucked into “The Bachelor” and, like the rest of America, cannot look away. Ichabod feels the show is a terrible mockery of love while Katrina is more optimistic about the TV couple’s chances.

Shhhh. No one tell her.

Of course, the Cranes can’t watch a show about True Love™ without the conversation turning to their own marital problems. Because couples therapy didn’t exist in colonial times, they’re trying to work through Katrina’s lies and Ichabod’s trust issues on their own. This is going better than expected. But before they can really get to making up, Abbie bursts into the cabin with dumb old apocalypse news.

Oh right, Henry’s still out there. And since they aborted Moloch, he’s probably pretty pissed off at them. The gang tries to figure out what their next move should be. But they shouldn’t have worried, it is totally not War’s style lay low. Case in point, as our heroes debate the merits of Real Housewives, Henry is busy pulling a beating heart from an urn. This seems promising. 

The Horseman of War delivers. One magical Latin incantation later, a super fine naked lady demon is brought forth to sow dissent. And get her party on at a local rave. I mean, what else would a succubus do? How do we know she’s a succubus? Other than the visual cues of being a smoking hot female demon? Well, the changing herself into a hot nerd girl after noticing her prey lusting after a nerdy acquaintance was one hint. Sucking the life out of the poor nerd boy in the backseat of his car before he even got to second base was another one. This is some straight up PG “Jennifer’s Body” shit, right here.

After proving himself last week, I guess Reyes is cool with Ichabod tagging along again. So both Crane and Mills are called in to the scene of the crime. The succubus is long gone, but her victim is a crusty husk. No matter how much you want to dismiss supernatural murder, there’s not a lot of normal explanations for this one. So everyone just seems to be deferring to the supernatural experts. 

Abbie is pretty pissed that Henry has fired up the old demon-murder machine again. Ichabod is still beating a dead horse with “My son can be saved from this evil.” Oh God, Katrina’s willful blindness is contagious. Get these naive fools into quarantine, STAT!

Back at the Carriage House, Abraham aka Headless is whining about Ichabod stealing his girl. I’d say it’s impossible for someone to steal another person, but it’s actually a pretty common occurrence in this universe. Henry is unimpressed. Apparently Moloch has commanded the horseman of Death to stay away from Katrina…at least according to War. Henry cuts the mirror-call short as the succubus shows back up. Moloch has a new plan and it clearly involves regurgitating souls into a mason jar.


At the Exposition Library, the gang is coming up blank as to what could’ve killed the nerd boy.  But Katrina recognizes the creature was basically using supernatural acupuncture. By figuring out which vitae point they accessed to kill the victim, the gang can narrow the search parameters. Katrina’s usefulness is cut short as a vision hits from out of nowhere. A cradle and a crying baby and a heart flash before her eyes. 

In a moment of accidental bitchiness, Katrina’s response to neither Abbie nor Ichabod having tea on them is to say “Well Abraham always had the brand of tea I liked.” Girl, no. You’re in danger of letting Stockholm Syndrome ruin your marriage. 

A quietly hurt Ichabod takes his wife home, leaving Abbie to stew about having to follow up on the demon that’s you know, murdering people, alone. Speaking of which, the next victim has been spotted. Random third wheel lesbian goes down for the count within seconds. A good succubus does not discriminate based on sexual identity. 

Without any solid leads, Abbie resorts to finding another supernatural expert. Awwww yessss, it’s the return of Hawley aka Southern Gentleman Aquaman. But alas, SGA is no help at all. He’s never seen anything like these victims before. He tries to salvage the night by asking Abbie to join him for a drink, but she’s too caught up on not getting romantically involved with anyone to just loosen up and get some. Which is probably for the best since SGA has slept with her sister. 

Yeah, that’s gonna get weird later. 

Anyway, Hawley excuses himself to go flirt with more willing partners and Abbie runs off to meet up with Ichabod. The whole Hawley scene could be written off as time filler but suddenly Mills realizes the only reason anyone would be in the backseat of their own car would be to get some. Ichabod adorably tries out his modern word of the week — macking — and the gang puts two and two together to figure out what the audience has known forever: they’re dealing with a succubus. 

As a witch, Katrina is a font of useful information. When it comes to succubi — and presumedly incubi — the more secret the desire, the more the demon can see you and mimic what you want most in order to eat your sweet, delicious soul. Using a tracing spell, Mrs. Crane is able to locate the succubus’s current location. She’s down at the docks. At Hawley’s pier.

Dun dun dunnnnnnnnn.

Abbie and Ichabod race to the rescue but no one rescues Southern Gentleman Aquaman. Hawley saves his damn self…temporarily. In the end, it becomes a group effort. Hawley burns the succubus with a magical artifact, Crane beans her with a metal pipe, and Abbie empties some bullets into the demon’s back. Of course, demons almost always take Endurance as their main stat and the succubus flees into the night. But at least Hawley still has most of his soul.

Having part of your soul removed apparently makes you woozy and Crane comes to Hawley’s rescue. Oh? What’s that? The beginning a grudging mutual respect? Whatever, I will use this moment of physical contact to ship the ever-living hell out Crawley. Crane half-heartedly tries to dispel the sexual tension — SHUT UP LET ME HAVE THIS — by warning Hawley to stay away from Abbie but SGA is like “I do what I want.”

And then they make-out.

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'The Comeback' returns with more Bravo than Valerie
Credit: HBO

'The Comeback' returns with more Bravo than Valerie

Valerie Cherish is in control, for now

The comeback of "The Comeback" cleverly began exactly the same way as the first season, with a test pattern and an indication that we were seeing raw footage for a show called "The Comeback."

Yet the show that followed was very different. Yes, it's still raw footage from a camera crew -- this time, a group of students Valerie Cherish is using to produce a pilot presentation for her own reality series -- but both Valerie and the series have changed.

Most significantly, Valerie is in control. She's far less insecure and constantly troubled about how she'll appear to others, in part because she's the one controlling her film crew, however amateur they are. This time, if she makes that T with her hands, they really will time out and not use it ("My show, I can cut it"). Or at least, that's the way things appear now.

It's a remarkable change for the character, who's not nearly as desperate, neurotic, or put-upon as she was during season one.

Although she is still worried about her image, there's also a new, uglier edge to Valerie. Early in the episode, she's in bed with her husband reading Paulie G.'s script for an HBO series based on his experiences on Room and Bored. There's information in that scene--Room and Bored didn't get renewed, and neither did Valerie's reality show--but it's most striking because Valerie angrily parrots her husband and calling Paulie G. a slur, and then slips back into her old ways.

"We can't say 'cocksucker' because I had Tyler put back the ceiling camera," she said.  Valerie Cherish has become what she never wanted to be: mean and controlling, and she's also become Jane, the producer who followed her around to capture footage that would ultimately be manipulated by editors in the show's great first-season finale.

Valerie Cherish has also become more savvy, but it's not growth. The end of season one showed Valerie finally embracing the humiliation she feared so much, but what's happened since then has jaded her so much that she's now willing to create drama.

She first realizes she misses a moment to literally make a scene when, in a callback to season one's penultimate episode, she's punched in the stomach--though not quite intentionally--by a host at a restaurant.

Later, she jumps on the opportunity when she senses that she can make a scene at HBO, where they're casting her part in the new dramedy, a casting call she misses because she doesn't even know who her agent is any more. She ends up succumbing to flattery and niceness, and also surprises everyone at HBO with her emotional line reading of a scene (from her own life, so of course it's emotional).

"The Comeback" itself felt weighed down by its references to reality television.
That's because, with the exception of a wasted cameo by RuPaul Charles ("you've got that show!" Val says to him, and then he's ignored), a reference to "Survivor," and an offhand summary of other series, the entire episode only refers to Bravo reality shows.

Yes, Val is initially working to pitch a new reality show to Bravo, and that makes Andy Cohen's cameo plausible, but it's a weird choice to have the characters in this universe only talking about Bravo shows, never mind all the Bravo cameos.

Perhaps the most successful was Val's failed appearance on "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," refusing to fight with Lisa Vanderpump because she's still burned by her experiences with her reality show. That interaction is loaded with references (to Kyle Richards, the New York version of "Housewives," the way producers set up meals and plotlines in advance) that are both hilarious and not-so-subtle commentary on the genre.

Still, it almost felt like product placement, especially when "Top Chef"'s Carla Hall showed up so another character could make a throwaway joke/reference to "Top Chef." The first season had plenty of reality TV show references and cameos, but they were more purposeful.

Just has Valerie has gotten a little more craven in her desire for attention and affirmation, it seems like "The Comeback" has, too.

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