The brilliance of Lisa Kudrow's performance as Valerie Cherish is that it's cartoonish and absurd, yet through her behavior you can see Valerie's complicated motivations underneath it. Some people dislike “The Comeback” because they can't get past that facade–it's overwhelming, and really grates, whether it's intended to be comedic (“Jane, Jane…”) or just annoying (“Jane, Jane…”).
Both in season one and now, Val's behavior is largely an act of self protection. Her image matters to her, and she desperately tries to shape it, usually failing. Then, though, her behavior at least turned out to be somewhat justified: all of her raw, unflattering moments were used against her by the reality show. Even though it was a hit, you can see how that sort of betrayal would send her even deeper into self-protection.
Throughout most of “Valerie is Taken Seriously,” Valerie is doing damage control for what she thinks is more potentially damaging footage. A New York Times reporter who's seen the first episode of the faux HBO series “Seeing Red” tells her that her performance is “brave,” and Val takes that as Hollywood code for a woman who looks ugly on screen.
But the reporter is really referring to her acting, which is extraordinary. To add an additional layer of meta, which “The Comeback” loves to do, the scene Val watches shows her character, Mallory, talking to the Paulie G character, Mitch, and saying, “I'm your way out, and you're too fucking stupid to even know it.”
It's a powerful moment, even for us as viewers of “The Comeback.” Mickey is stunned. “Red–all these years! You can really act,” he says. “It's wonderful.” A quick glimpse of Jane shows that she, too, is impressed.
That line we hear Mallory deliver is key because that's what she, Mallory, is for Valerie: a way out of the caricature, a way in to earned respect. Her acting is so strong it will undoubtedly lead to better things for Valerie Cherish. Val's character might as well be speaking directly to Val, but of course Valerie doesn't get it, reacting instead to her physical appearance, and in particular how the light makes her look.
Of course, Valerie finally learns to stand up for herself and push back at exactly the wrong time, again getting in her own way. Her self absorption ensures that, as usual, she prioritizes her own insecurities. That leads to Paulie G.'s biggest flip-out to date. She's been warned that Paulie G. is struggling with “Seeing Red,” falling behind by two scripts and even being replaced as director, but she still tries to convince him to change the lighting to make her look better–even though, again, what they've created together is pretty impressive.
Paulie G.'s flip-out opens up an opportunity for a cameo from Paulie G.'s old writing partner, Tom, who delivers one of “The Comeback”'s most overt lectures on Hollywood's dysfunction. Now executive producing a Nickelodeon show, Tom finally flips out himself, yelling, “I don't get this business. Why does everybody make excuses for that guy?” The episode answers that by showing that Paulie G. still has talent, despite his awfulness, and that talent may just help both him and his past and present nemesis.
It's ironic that Val would finally choose to confront Paulie G. about making her look bad because of something that does exactly the opposite. Yes, there's a somewhat humiliating scene of Val, in full green screen attire, turning into a CGI monster and literally tearing a to-be-added-in-post child apart–a representation of their relationship and of Paulie G.'s “inner child.” At one point he tells her, “You're the monster, Val, you got it? You don't have to do anything because you're the monster–you. Clear?”
By the end, Valerie finally is clear: “Jane, I'll do whatever you want.”