Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King Discuss ‘The Comeback’

Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King The Comeback Interview
Michael Patrick King and Lisa Kudrow (Photo Credit: John P. Johnson / HBO)
Why did HBO decide to bring back The Comeback from creators/executive producers Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King for a second season nine years after the first season ended? As HBO’s Executive Vice President of Programming Casey Bloys explained during the summer Television Critics Association press event, the series was one that was always well thought of at the network and now just seemed like the right time to revisit it. “I think that HBO’s in a different place than it was nine years ago, and we had the room to bring it back. The future of the network does not depend on the show, and these guys weren’t able to do it for a long time,” said Bloys. “I’m not even sure how we did it this time, but we did. I mean, everybody was just ready. It just felt like the right time for us and for these guys.”

“And whether ‘Valerie’ [Kudrow’s character] has evolved or not, we both sort of wanted to take it to a different place as writers too. So we, oddly enough, liked the gap between the last season and this offering. It actually added to our grist to write with, I think,” explained King.

Together at the TCA event in Los Angeles, Kudrow and King teamed up to discuss what fans of The Comeback can expect from the second season when it arrives in November.

Lisa Kudrow and Michael Patrick King Interview

Who came up with the idea to bring it back first?

Michael Patrick King: “Lisa and I would meet over the years socially because I’m no fool and it’s fun to be around Lisa. And every now and then it would drift to an idea of, ‘I wonder what Valerie would be doing now?’ But it was too much of a thing to even say we would come back. We never said it, did we?”

Lisa Kudrow: “No. Too much of an emotional risk…”

Michael Patrick King: “…to even say it. And then we got a call from HBO and they asked us to come back and talk about The Comeback. And then we started talking about it because it was no longer a risk emotionally, it was creatively.”

How close will you remain to the original sort of documentary format and how do you feel that format has changed in 10 years?

Lisa Kudrow: “It’s still  the show is the same as it was nine years ago.”

Michael Patrick King: “The DNA is the same. We’re picking up the show nine years – 10 years by the time you see it – later. The DNA that we’ve liked about Valerie is her in front of a camera. I’m editing. So we tried to reflect, like we did the last time, what was happening the last time in television seemed to be the birth of reality television and an actress’s need to be in front of the camera. And this time, we found a different way to get her in front of the camera because we wanted to evolve the character and also where we are in TV. What we have now is we have her in front of a behind-the-scenes crew rather than a reality crew. Reality TV is not where we land; it is where Valerie starts trying to land, and then she goes someplace else when she gets cast in a show on HBO.”

Are you happy to be back? Do you feel like there’s a lot of fans that wanted you back? Do you feel a little bit of closure perhaps?

Lisa Kudrow: “Yeah, I do. I mean, speaking for myself, I’m just – and I think Michael too – we’re just really grateful that we get to pick it up again and just keep people up to date on what’s happening and just to do it again. There was so much. I mean, whatever. It didn’t get picked up nine years ago, whatever. We just loved doing it so very much that that was the bad part, you know? It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, that was so hard and awful, but, shoot, my feelings are hurt.’ That wasn’t it. We just loved doing it so much that I think we were both just so thrilled, overjoyed. You know, Michael’s already overworked and said, ‘Well, we have to because we can’t not have this experience again.'”

Michael Patrick King: “I think we’re both thrilled to be back at HBO because the reason it was polarizing, I think, is because it was allowed to be this original thing that really couldn’t be fit in a box 10 years ago, maybe. That was only because it was on HBO, and then here we are back where it was born and it feels very right. And our experience with HBO this time has been doubly creative.”

Will we catch up on what Valerie’s been doing for the last 10 years?

Michael Patrick King: “It was our job to let people who have never seen The Comeback figure out where she’s been for 10 years and introduce her, but also for fans there’s a little bit of, I would call it a ‘crack cocaine’ opening, where you get to see – if you’re a Comeback fan – Valerie in a lot of different versions of where she’s been for nine years.”

Are any of the characters from the first run of The Comeback like Malin Akerman and Kellan Lutz going to appear again?

Lisa Kudrow: “Yes.”

Michael Patrick King: “We got to tell a story, and we got to bring back all of the characters that we thought were essential. And over the nine years, odd things have happened. Like Malin, who was unknown, and Kellan, who was unknown, became bigger stars and did movies, and so we’re bringing them back in a sort of metaversion of themselves as bigger stars, those characters as bigger stars.”

Will Paulie G be back?

Lisa Kudrow: “Oh, yes.”

Michael Patrick King: “Yeah. Paulie G is a nemesis, and he plays a big part in this version.”

Lisa Kudrow: “That felt like unfinished business to me from the first season, didn’t it?”

Michael Patrick King: “Yeah, to me it felt like, ‘What was that? Why did they hate each other? Why does he hate her? What is that dynamite combustion between them?’ So it was really Lance [Barber] who was one of the first persons we checked on availability to make sure that we could have Paulie back because it’s big part of the protagonist in all that.”

Is there a chance there could be more if these six episodes do spectacularly well? Is there a chance that there could be yet another season and Valerie could evolve again and how would you fit that into each of your schedules?

Michael Patrick King: “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yeah. Look, we tried even when we did the first season, we ended it like this is contained and we thought we were coming back. This one has a beginning, middle, and an end. Every movement should. So we ended it, and Valerie is…I’ll tell you something about Valerie. Lisa and I, when we were writing these, it was amazing because Lisa and I were in an office slugging it out and figuring out what Valerie would be doing and improvising and writing and writing and writing. And then we did the hair and makeup test right before we started, and when Lisa walked in as Valerie, I got like really shy. I was like, ‘I haven’t seen you in nine years. Hello.’ I mean, Valerie is a powerful being and she doesn’t go away. She might power down, and then maybe you see her again if you’re lucky.

And if we’re lucky, maybe you’ll see her again. If not, we had a great time. This felt like a very full experience, and it’s just done. We’re still like we just finished it. We’re like almost two weeks ago.”

Were any of the original ideas for season two incorporated into this version? Or has too much time passed?

Lisa Kudrow: “Oh, well, we had sort of vague ideas about what would happen, but because it’s nine years later, we’ve just sort of burned through those in sort of like the update we include in the first episode. But, it takes off from a whole other place.”

Michael Patrick King: “There is one emotional moment that I saw in the very last episode of the first season that we sort of thought was interesting which is Valerie says she’s given up show business, and then after Leno, she’s signing autographs and happy again. There’s a shot of her husband looking concerned like, ‘What is that?’ So the idea of a husband dealing with somebody’s success or how much of your personal relationship you’re giving over to success was something that we pulled through. Like, what does a career do to a marriage? And it doesn’t have to be an actress. It can be anybody who’s obsessed with their career.”

As writers, you have to feel incredibly challenged because in this camera everywhere society, everything is so over the top. Is that your big competition, what’s really going on?

Michael Patrick King: “It’s interesting.”

Lisa Kudrow: “That’s funny. Yeah, that was one of the sort of things that made me nervous before we started, which was what we did nine years ago was so tame compared to what’s actually going on. And, you know, there are a lot of shows where people are sort of referencing a documentary crew somewhere doing something, but then the stories and the situations, it took over, and it was just bigger than it was before. And things happen after nine years to human beings to make them slightly different and make the stakes a little different and make their reaction to things a little different, and that took over. Then the way it’s shot, I forgot, doesn’t look like anything else still, I think.”

Michael Patrick King: “I mean, it’s big. When we did the first series we thought it would be so great if Valerie went into therapy with reality cameras, and we went, ‘That’s too far. That would never happen. Get a grip. We can’t do that.’ And now it’s like a go-to…that and a bikini wax is on every reality show you have to see. So the fact that reality is our life, or at one point, Valerie says, ‘I forgot everything is on camera,’ we’re trying to incorporate the fact that everything’s very accessible.

There’s a youth element in the show, how kids process stuff versus how older people process stuff. It’s really we tried to mash up everything that we see and is happening right now in television and in life and put it in a comedy.”

Do you think there’s an opportunity for more people to get it than got it the first time around? Did that impact organically your tone in writing it, that more people are actually going to get it from the get-go and maybe less explanation is going to be required?

Lisa Kudrow: “Yes, I think so. My experience has been that younger audiences, younger people already know about it and have already seen it and fully appreciate it. There’s no question mark for them about, ‘What is this?’ And they didn’t see it nine years ago.”

Michael Patrick King: “The other thing is one of the weird thoughts that came at us nine years ago is that they’ve never seen a female character doing this to herself in front of a camera. People are like, ‘I don’t know what is happening?’ and since then there’s been the Real Housewives. Our first poster, which Lisa and I designed, was Valerie standing in a meat grinder, happy.”

Lisa Kudrow: “Happily throwing herself in.”

Michael Patrick King: “Then she’s grinding herself up to make television, and then we’ve seen that that has really happened on every single [show]. So people we will not have to explain a woman who doesn’t have financial problems putting herself in front of a camera and putting herself in harm’s way. That’s already in the world. What we do with it from there is our sort of swing at storytelling to make it be a beginning, middle, and end of Valerie and her life.”

One of the sources of comedy in the first season was the show within a show. So when you go to make another show within a show now in a sort of HBO series, how much of that are we going to see within the context of this season?

Michael Patrick King: “You will see it. We are doing the show within the show. It’s a dramedy, an HBO dramedy, so how we sort of depicted a sitcom, a network sitcom that wasn’t doing well, we’ll do our very best to reflect Valerie’s experience if she got lucky enough to be cast on an HBO dramedy, which through plot twists which I won’t get into here now  hopefully you’ll believe.”

Is the process of writing it the same as it was before? Is there the same amount of improvisation or has it changed?

Lisa Kudrow: “Well, you know, nine years ago it was scripted. So there was not improvisation really and the same this time.”

Michael Patrick King: “Every single word that Lisa says – and that’s what’s so amazing about her as an actor – we wrote. This time, we got together and figured out as writers, the story and then within the scenes, really hammered out what Valerie would do. But Lisa does become possessed by Valerie. It’s the great tool she has as a writer that we can actually say, ‘Oh, that’s how Valerie would say it.’ And I take a swing at that every now and then too.”

Does the show this time poke fun at the fact that a lot of reality shows are scripted to some extent?

Michael Patrick King: “Yes, that’s interesting. Reality shows are scripted. We recently heard about a reality show where we were going to film the actors leaving the restaurant three times. Leaving, coming back, leaving, coming back, leaving, coming back. Oddly, Valerie is virginal in that way. What you’re seeing is not scripted. It is sort of raw in front of the camera as much as she’d like to control it.

The other great thing in theory about Valerie this time around versus last time and where we are in the world is people are used to cameras now. Nine years ago, she was hyper-aware of the camera. And in this series, she gets a little bit more used to the camera and just like you see those reality shows, people actually start to behave sort of like themselves in moments. But this is not about reality TV as much as it is about a career and taking risks and somebody’s need to be in the spotlight again.”

Lisa Kudrow: “Well, one of the things that I liked about it then and now is there’s one thing that’s kind of still the same which is who are you to yourself and what are you presenting to the world? I think that’s still very, very, very much a part of this one.”

– By Fred Topel