TVLine's Performer of the Week: Lisa Kudrow

lisa-kudrow-the-comeback-performance-valerie-blow-job-scene-seth-rogen

A weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Lisa Kudrow

THE SHOW | The Comeback

THE EPISODE | “Valerie Is Brought to Her Knees”

THE AIRDATE | November 23, 2014

THE PERFORMANCE | “I haven’t done a sex scene since I made out with Alan Thicke in that Growing Pains flashback,” exclaims Kudrow’s self-absorbed sitcom actress Valerie Cherish midway through this week’s riotously funny and frequently horrifying installment of The Comeback. Yet while Kudrow’s ability to score laughs in the midst of Valerie’s long-running, typically desperate quest for respect in Hollywood is the hallmark of her recently revived HBO comedy, the show’s latest episode gives her the opportunity to embody her character’s complexities in new and breathtaking ways.

First, the setup of “Valerie Is Brought to Her Knees”: In her second day of shooting a new HBO dramedy called Seeing Red — written and directed by Val’s one-time nemesis Paulie G about their days on the failed sitcom Room & Bored — Valerie (essentially playing a version of herself known as Mallory Church) must shoot an oral sex scene opposite A-list co-star Seth Rogen (playing “himself” as he essentially plays a version of Paulie, with whom Valerie never had an intimate enocounter, she reminds anyone who’ll listen).

Val’s self-doubt going into the scene, however, gives way to revulsion when she begins to realize Paulie is working through some sort of misogynistic revenge fantasy in his construction and direction of the scene. As Valerie (in her hideous “Aunt Sassy” tracksuit) gets flanked by two giggly (and completely naked) young women named Monica and Celeste, Paulie blurts out that Rogen’s character “is imagining you two while she’s blowing me so I can get aroused.” Paulie’s mix and match of third- and first-person is a shock to everyone in earshot, but Kudrow lets us see Valerie register the ick factor, then quickly drift into her happy place. “So free. So beautiful, really,” she smiles with faux positivity at her porn-star-esque scene-mates, who then launch into a series of orgasmic groans that leave poor Val wavering between emotionally numb and physically stricken. “That was hell. That’s where I was,” she later tells her makeup artist Mickey, and the frankness of Kudrow’s delivery makes clear that — 10 years after the humiliations of Room & Bored — Valerie isn’t so blinded by the on-set lights, is more accutely aware of the sacrifices she’s making for one more shot at the big leagues.

By the time Paulie places her on her mark for the big sex scene, though, Valerie’s carefully constructed perkiness is the half-deflated balloon in a dusty corner: She’s grimacing with nausea one second, bravely staring ahead the next, then looking like she could burst into tears. With very few words and using so many of the tics we’ve come to associate with the polarizing Valerie character, Kudrow opens a window to one woman’s internal negotiations about how she’ll play through the pain — or maybe get out of playing altogether. As Val grills Paulie for how she’s supposed to perform the sex act — “eager? reluctant? not at all?” — Kudrow turns up the urgency of each word, making Valerie’s anxiety almost unbearable. And when Paulie admits he wrote the scene as a punishment fantasy, Val finally snaps — right as she and Rogen begin filming. “It’s been a long day,” she blurts in a botched attempt to ad-lib like her co-star. “Why don’t you just rape me?!” Valerie says the line with her typical bad-sitcom hamminess, but there’s real rage and anxiety in the mix, too, thanks to the way Kudrow isn’t merely reading her lines but compleyely living in them.

Rogen, finally, uses his movie star clout to rescue “Gingersnaps” — artfully pressuring Paulie to film the bulk of the scene as a closeup of his face. That gives Kudrow one last chance to relieve the tension with some good old-fashioned chuckles, as Valerie drops to her knees, ducks out of camera’s view and finally rests her head awkwardly in Rogen’s lap. It’s not a pretty sight — but thanks to Kudrow’s commitment and fearlessness, it’s a beautiful achievement in acting.

POTWHONORABLE MENTION | Saul Berenson has spent much of Homeland‘s first three seasons serving as the calm ying to Carrie Mathison’s combustible yang. But Season 4 has presented us with a version of the former CIA director previously unseen: alternately frightened, defeated and inflamed. In Sunday’s superbly tense episode, all of those emotions came boiling over as a captive Saul became an unwilling participant in no-win prisoner exchange — and, man, Mandy Patinkin was at the height of his craft. As Saul dug in his heels and protested his role as jihadist pawn — first by refusing to get out of that van and later by holding a solitary sit-in on the tarmac — the despair and anguish in Patinkin’s eyes was soul-crushing. Thank God Carrie (a typically spot-on Claire Danes) knocked some sense into him in time to save the mission and his life. By taking Saul/Patinkin out of Homeland you really do let the terrorists win.

POTWHONORABLE MENTION | MTV’s Faking It has always set out to surprise its viewers with taboo topics, steamy storylines and jokes that boldly tow the line of good taste. But on Tuesday’s midseason finale, the biggest surprise of all came from star Rita Volk, whose gripping speech at her character’s most desperate hour had us asking, “Wait, is this even a teen show?” While the speech itself gave Volk a blueprint for success — kudos to co-writers Carter Covington and Carrie Rosen — she took it to the next level with her own blend of emotional depth and quirky humor. And even though the confession largely revolved around recent events, it was essentially two seasons in the making; and thanks to Volk’s emotionally stunning performance, it was a confession worth waiting for.

potwHONORABLE MENTION | Showtime’s The Affair has spent its freshman season telling the same story via two different perspectives. But in both versions, Joshua Jackson’s Cole Lockhart comes off as a cold, detached husband who isn’t mourning the loss of his son in quite the same way as wife Alison. That all changed in Sunday’s episode, after Cole learned his wife had been unfaithful to him. Although his initial reaction — telling Alison her affair was not his problem — was unsurprisingly distant, Jackson infused Cole with vulnerability at long last just a few scenes later. It began with a simple question (“Was it something I did?”) and ended with Cole sitting on a Brooklyn sidewalk, openly sobbing about how profoundly his son’s death has destroyed him. “The only thing that made it better for me, so I could just breathe for a second, was you,” Cole told his wife. But it was Jackson who left us breathless this time, as he finally revealed the broken man underneath Cole’s tough exterior.

What performances rocked your TV set this week? Sound off below!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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25 Comments
  1. Definitely agree with Joshua Jackson. I would nominate all four leads in The Affair, though! Dominic, Maura, Ruth, Joshua–all great!

  2. That speech on Faking It was heartbreaking. Volk is a star in the making.

  3. Carlos Alvarez says:

    Umm what about Matt Czuchry for playing Cary in The Good Wife. He was awesome in last Sunday’s episode. By the end of the episode I was emotionally drained and he had me in tears when he told Alicia promise me you will visit me in prison I’m gonna get lonely in there. He deserves an Emmy nomination for the episode. He owned it

  4. Tim says:

    LIsa is fantastic! It’s all in her face and mannerisms, no words needed.

  5. Ashley C says:

    Uh hello Matt Czuchry on the good wife!! Not even an honorable mention!

    • DW says:

      Spreading around the mentions must be a part of these weekly lists. Matt was mentioned earlier this year. There are already several episodes this year where Matt Czuchry has absolutely owned the tv. Wow, what a performance as Cary Agos.

      • Lucy says:

        Yeah, but they should also mention the ones who really deserved it. And that week it was his best work since the season premiere. Anyway for what he has done that season he owns a performer of the year win not just the weekly mention.

  6. Tran says:

    I was so emotional by Mandy Patinkin’s performance in Episode 9 of this season’s Homeland. Hope the series gets back in the Outstanding Drama Series category at the Emmys in 2015.

  7. Lucy says:

    No Matt Czuchry??? Boooo

  8. Mel says:

    So glad you included Mandy Pakinkin. He was superb. This season of Homeland has been amazing.

  9. Carlos Alvarez says:

    Screw the honorable mention. He deserves performer of the week and an Emmy for that episode. Matt Czuchry was amazing

  10. JP says:

    Rita Volk is fantastic, her acting come off as natural and she is very likeble

  11. Carey says:

    Matt Czuchury was robbed!

  12. It’s a true shame and disgrace that all three honorable mentions are regarded in any possible way as inferior to Lisa Kudrow.

    • ... says:

      They are inferior to her performance in The Comeback, which I’m 96% sure you don’t watch or don’t understand, and you will deal.

      • HAP says:

        While it may not have anything to do with her performance in The Comeback, it amazes me that Kudrow is currently headlining in Web Therapy as well. One show on HBO; Another on Showtime.

        • mtmslg says:

          It’s called talent . . . Kudrow has it in spades. Both shows are terrific and each character is well defined, unique and painfully funny.

  13. ... says:

    As if The Good Wife doesn’t get enough tongue baths from the internet. Settle down.

  14. Jenna says:

    Mandy Patinkin and Claire Danes have been amazing this season. The Carrie and Saul dynamic has been so great to watch, especially in the last two episodes. Hopefully, this Homeland reboot will get some Emmy love.

  15. Yolanda says:

    No one here doesn’t watch “The Comeback” so of course their faves aren’t here or are HMs. But the thing is if they watched the show they would have know that Lisa gives one for the ages performance on that show and should have been given Performer of the Week title every single week. No one comes close to her, not even JLD on “Veep”. Yup, Lisa is showing everyone what masterclass acting is all about.

  16. Tim says:

    fyi Mickey is Val’s hair stylist, not her makeup man…