Lisa Kudrow

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: With the Primetime Emmy Awards taking place September 20, we’re looking at “award shows”—episodes that depict award ceremonies, that is.

The Comeback, “Valerie Gets What She Really Wants” (season two, episode eight; originally aired 12/28/2014)

“It’s an honor just to be nominated” was once to nods in the Emmy acting categories as “Bless you” is to sneezes—a socially mandated, reflexive response with little if any relation to the actual emotions underlying it. But the original programming bubble has yielded so many stellar performances that there aren’t nearly enough shiny statues to go around, and Emmy nominations have indeed become their own reward. For most of the nominees in this year’s Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series nominees, the recognition will have to suffice, and Lisa Kudrow is likely one of them. Kudrow is certainly deserving for her performance as Valerie Cherish in HBO’s The Comeback, a ruthless, satirical take on reality television and the desperate souls who populate it. But with Julia Louis-Dreyfus on an Emmy tear with Veep, Amy Schumer in the midst of a dream career year, and Amy Poehler offering a last chance to award her work on Parks And Recreation, the odds are against Kudrow. (Gold Derby puts her at 14 to 1.)

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Luckily for Kudrow, she’s already been awarded two Emmys: once as herself, an Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy award for her performance on Friends, and again as Valerie, who wins the same category in The Comeback’s meta season-two finale. The Comeback’s second season finds washed-up sitcom actress Valerie feeling bruised and betrayed after her first stint on reality television helped her reclaim her fleeting fame at the cost of an embarrassing villain edit. She’s offered the opportunity to star in Seeing Red, a dark HBO dramedy written by her nemesis Paulie G. (Lance Barber), as a barely fictionalized version of herself tormenting a lowly sitcom writer battling heroin addiction. The role of Mallory Church initially looks as booby-trapped as was Aunt Sassy, the menopausal shrew she played in the terrible sitcom at the center of The Comeback’s first season. To everyone’s surprise, Valerie taps into her unmined dark side and wins critical notices for her performance, then a coveted Emmy nomination.

The finale, “Valerie Gets What She Really Wants,” follows her to the Emmys, and The Comeback shows off its commitment to verisimilitude by dropping her into a field of nominees she’s up against, including Orange Is The New Black’s Laverne Cox and Veep’s Anna Chlumsky. It’s the night Valerie has spent her intermittently successful career building toward, but it’s no less a comedy of errors than any other day in her life. A septic-tank disaster nearly leaves her gown covered in excrement, but more importantly, her hairdresser and best friend Mickey (Robert Michael Morris) has to pull out of attending the ceremony due to his failing health. When Valerie finds out Mickey’s been admitted to the hospital, she must choose between the professional honor at the center of her vision board and being there for her friend in what may well be his final moments.

Kudrow is consistently excellent throughout The Comeback, but she’s never better than in the desperate moments when Valerie is trying to request an Uber driver so that she can rush to the hospital, gripped with fear by the idea of arriving too late to say goodbye to Mickey. The conclusion, which also puts her face-to-face with her estranged husband Mark (Damian Young) is too poignant and perfect to give away, but it bears out the episode’s title in an unexpected way. Kudrow chose to submit another episode of The Comeback for consideration in this year’s Emmy race, and it was a shrewd move. Her performance as Valerie, and her in-world Emmy win, feel so real it’s easy to forget Kudrow didn’t win the award herself.

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Availability: “Valerie Gets What She Really Wants” is streaming on HBO Go and is available for digital purchase on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.