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The Comeback: “Valerie Is Taken Seriously”

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It’s becoming more and more likely that Valerie Cherish may actually have the comeback she’s been aching for with Seeing Red, but she’ll need to overcome her own insecurities in order to fully embrace the opportunity presented by her HBO series. And it all comes down to putting her ego to the side and following direction, no matter how much she disagrees with it. That’s extremely difficult when Valerie finds herself pushed further out of her comfort zone with a sequence filmed entirely in front of a green screen, and she becomes even more self-conscious when a reporter from The New York Times arrives on set and compliments Valerie for her “brave” performance in the first episode of Seeing Red.

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The green screen idea is this season’s first big misstep, humiliating Valerie in a way that stretches the credibility of Seeing Red as an HBO series. Those painful scenes two episodes ago worked because it’s easy to believe an HBO comedy would feature sexually exploitative fantasy sequences, but all this green screen nonsense is very hard to swallow for a premium cable network that has such a tight handle on quality control. In these scenes, Valerie is back on the Room & Bored set (which will be added in post), briefly converses with two absent costars (who will be added in post), and then turns into a green, horned monster that rips apart Paulie G.’s inner child (the transformation will be added in post). It sounds like crap, which may very well be the point, but it makes it hard to connect with these scenes as moments of shame for Valerie.

The Comeback can get pretty broad at times, and the green screen material this week is one of those times. Paulie G. is two scripts behind, so it’s possible that this scene is deliberately rough to show how Paulie G’s writing is getting lazier as he rushes to get caught up. There was specificity to the scenes in “Valerie Is Brought To Her Knees”; they were rooted in Paulie G.’s twisted sexual feelings for the actress, explicitly all those times he wanted to tell her to blow him. You don’t get that specificity during the green screen scenes. They’re simply based around the idea that Valerie is a monster ruining Paulie G.’s life, an obvious metaphor that doesn’t have the dark edge of what we saw earlier in the season.

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When Valerie plays around with some potential monster voices, Paulie G.—who has been forced to give up his directing position because he’s fallen behind on writing—stands up and breaks down exactly what his intentions are for this scene: “NO VOICE! You’re the monster, Val! You don’t have to do anything, ‘cause you’re the monster. You. Clear?” It’s a little too clear. There’s no subtlety in this week’s depiction of Paulie G. and Valerie’s relationship, and Paulie G. is once again in the purely antagonistic role he had in the first season. Sure, the events from two episodes ago were also lacking nuance, but the script took the time to detail the emotional foundation for those moments on Paulie G.’s end. He’s back to being a one-dimensional asshole this week, going so far as to tell Valerie that she may as well stick a needle in his arm when she comments on the dailies she saw without permission.

In order to deal with an ever-worsening Paulie G., Valerie seeks out his old creative partner Tom Peterman (Robert Bagnell), who is an executive producer on an immensely popular Nickelodeon series. It’s a deeply unsatisfying experience for Tom, who hasn’t spoken to Paulie G. in six years and is extremely frustrated that his old partner now has a lucrative HBO deal after ruining Tom’s career with his drug addiction. Paulie G. is the one that destroyed their collaboration, but because he has heroin as an excuse, he’s given another chance while sober Tom’s reputation never recovers. Bagnell does great work capturing Tom’s aggravation with his current situation, and it’s nice to see Tom’s character get the kind of attention that Paulie G. is denied this week.

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The New York Times plot works much better than the Paulie G./green screen narrative, offering stronger critique of the industry and revealing that Valerie is actually doing a great job with her Seeing Red performance. When Valerie is told by the Times reporter that her performance in the first episode is “very brave,” Valerie immediately panics and assumes that the woman is referring to her appearance. In Hollywood-speak, “brave” tends to be used when an actress is playing a man, not wearing make-up, or gains 50 pounds for a role, making it a very dangerous word for a woman as obsessed with her image as Valerie.

Thanks to Jane, who is becoming increasingly comfortable with getting directly involved in Valerie’s story, Valerie is able to see the dailies of the first episode of Seeing Red, and the only thing she focuses on is how visually dark the footage is. She has no comments on the strength of her performance, but Mickey sums it up perfectly: “Oh, Red! All these years. You can really act.” Mickey is no fool, and he knows that Valerie isn’t an exceptional actress. He would never say that out loud because he’s her primary support system, but he lets his real opinion slip when he actually sees what Valerie is capable of when she’s challenged by her director.

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Watching the dailies, Valerie complains that she looks tired because this was the 12th take and Paulie G. pushed her too hard, ignorant that that is the reason why her performance is so much more effective and powerful. When Valerie bum-rushes the Times reporter to ask what she meant by “brave,” the woman explains that she wasn’t talking about Valerie’s appearance, but her emotionally raw performance. She’s exposing the inner part of herself in a very surprising and compelling way, and people have never seen that side of Valerie before. “Surely you must have been aware of what you were doing?” the Times reporter asks, but as I’ve mentioned in past reviews, Valerie is completely oblivious.

Those words of encouragement force Valerie to change her mindset and become more comfortable with trusting others to handle her image, and they come at the perfect time because HBO is giving her another lucrative opportunity in addition to Seeing Red. Recording behind-the-scenes footage for social media doesn’t have the same gravity as filming a reality TV show, but this episode finds a way to give Jane and her crew more importance to Valerie by changing the context of what they’re filming. As some commenters predicted, HBO decides to turn Jane’s small project into a full-fledged documentary about Valerie and the obstacles she’s facing in this role, and an HBO documentary has considerably more prestige than a network reality series, especially when it’s being produced by an Academy Award winner.

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The circumstances have never been better for Valerie to finally launch herself into true stardom, but can she fully commit to leaving her fate in the hands of others without her incessant interference? History suggests that the answer is no, but maybe Valerie is ready to let go of her ego if it means the fame she’s always craved.

Stray observations:

  • Seriously, why is Tyler still on this show? Now that this project is going to be an HBO documentary, I feel like Tyler would definitely be removed from the crew, and I doubt that his connection to Mark would be enough to excuse his incompetence. I have a very hard time figuring out what his role in the series is.
  • Valerie is getting a lot better with names! I don’t believe she messed up anyone’s this week.
  • Tonight’s dancing fill-in director for Seeing Red goes too far into caricature territory, but it’s fun to see Valerie get worried by the creative change. You get the impression that she doesn’t trust female directors as much as men.
  • Valerie would be perfect for children’s television.
  • Mark has rented a house in the Palisades because his home has been taken over by the Seeing Red crew, which is now using the location for scenes that Valerie isn’t even in. Valerie is excited by the prospect, but I wonder if she’ll be invited to join him.
  • Billy gets a lot of screen time this week, panicking that Valerie’s rising profile means that he’s about to lose another client write when she’s about to hit it big. Dan Bucatinsky is very good at playing desperate and exasperated, making Billy an incredibly pitiful character over the course of the episode.
  • This week’s end credits music: “Dreams” by The Cranberries. Could Valerie’s dream really come true? It very well might.
  • “Remember when the ozone was an issue? Then we moved on to global warming? It’s always something.”
  • “Half the time I don’t know where we are and I’m in the scene. No one gives me a road map. Just have to do it.”
  • “From Mr. Seth Rogen! Shouldn’t have said ‘Mister.’ He said, ‘Blow me,’ I said, ‘Mister.’ Too formal.”
  • “Why do they make their crossword puzzles so hard? What are they trying to prove?”
  • “Didn’t feel that great, ‘cause I’m not really a mime. Did it once in a mall in college, but it’s not my thang.”
  • “There’s Paulie G. He’s not dead. That’s good.”
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