June 13, 2005 12:00 PM

HBO (Sundays, 9:30 p.m. ET)


Actors playing actors—HBO obviously likes the concept. Unscripted (about struggling actors) failed to catch on early this year, but Entourage (about a rising young star and his hangers-on) starts its second season June 5 at 9 p.m. ET. Immediately following is the premiere of Friends alum Lisa Kudrow’s new vehicle, in which she portrays a faded series star from the ’90s trying to rejuvenate her career by taking on the stock role of the middle-aged landlady in a brainless sitcom that focuses on sexy young singles.

I was all set to decry HBO’s showbiz obsession and suggest that Kudrow try a series about a soccer mom/insurance adjuster. Then I saw this show and came away impressed by its mordant humor and bitter truth. Kudrow’s Valerie Cherish is a desperate character, so eager to reclaim her fame that she’s taping a reality show about her comeback bid even as she endures the indignity of playing Aunt Sassy in the pilot for Room and Bored. The sitcom’s writers (Lance Barber and Robert Bagnell) scarcely conceal their contempt for her, while the reality show’s director (Laura Silverman) pushes her to register enthusiasm for the project. Valerie’s businessman husband (Damian Young) drifts through her life with a patronizing air, like a Shakespearean actor slumming in sitcom land. All the while, Valerie asks for respect based on her past Hollywood status, only to be reminded that yesterday’s “It girl” is today’s marked-down nostalgia item. The Comeback is funny, especially when it skewers the tasteless and false in reality TV. But we sympathize with Valerie as a woman who wants to be heard, even if she has nothing important to say.

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