Television is home to some serious acting comebacks. Big stars who found their way to the small screen, small screen sensations who faded away only to come roaring back into our lives and one that’s just a meta miracle. Let’s start there with:
5. Lisa Kudrow as Valerie Cherish (twice) in The Comeback (2005, 2014)
We only had to wait one (long, terrible, felt like forever) year between the last episode of Friends and Lisa Kudrow’s new vehicle The Comeback. Aptly titled, no? The premise is that an actress of a former hit sitcom is, you know, trying to stage her comeback. Twice.
There is something about Valerie that you just love and despise, almost instantly. How someone can make you cringe, literally curled up in a ball on the couch, wanting to die, and at the same time, make you wish that this person gets a taste of what she believes she deserves (which, frankly, is not more than dignity and a little respect, most of the time). I can’t watch The Comeback without feeling both of those things all of the time. And there is something about Valerie’s voice that just makes me laugh, pure and simple.
4. Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970 – 1977)
The story of how MTM got the role of Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show is one of my all-time favorites. Carl Reiner tells it best. But almost as good is the story of how she got her next show, one of the best sitcoms ever, the show that bears her name. Basically, after The Dick Van Dyke Show, MTM struggled to find her next big role. Finally, Dick Van Dyke called and he suggested they do a one-hour musical special together, reminding America how much they loved them. After that was a hit, MTM and her husband pitched the concept of Mary Tyler Moore. And you know the rest. I leave you with the theme song, which I hear about once a day because it’s also my ringtone. I love this show almost as much as Oprah (bonus flashback at the end of that clip for The Naked Truth, remember that one?)
3. Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright in Big Little Lies (2017)
“I forgot how good Nicole Kidman is.” Something I’ve heard, or said myself, at least ten times this year, since Big Little Lies came out. And it’s true. I don’t know what happened but somewhere along the way, I forgot that Nicole Kidman is one of the best actresses I’ve ever seen.
She has had a fucking bonkers year (based on her sheer number of film roles, plus Big Little Lies, this is a scientific fact) and so far, has been absolutely fucking resplendent and brilliant in everything I’ve been lucky to see. Worth the expletives, seriously. And bless Reese Witherspoon for talking her into taking this role- it’s a good one. Celeste is an ethereally beautiful wife and mother, seemingly with the perfect life, except her marriage is crazy violent, her husband slowly evolving more and more into a full-blown psychopath. In what could easily be a one-note part, Nicole Kidman infuses with life. Her delicacy is real. Her jumpiness is real. Her confusion is real. As the episodes progress, she becomes more and more exposed, her ends more frayed. This is someone you want to protect, who you also sense is capable of much damage herself. We missed you, Nicole.
2. Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn in The West Wing (1999 – 2006)
There are, I guess, four phases in which to enjoy Rob Lowe’s handsome face. 1) Teen baby-faced heartthrob (The Outsiders, St. Elmo’s Fire, About Last Night) 2. Slimy sleazebag in classic comedies (Wayne’s World, Tommy Boy) 3. Well, hello Sam Seaborn. 4. Mainstream television comedy staple (Parks & Recreation).
I danced between #3 and #4 for this list but ultimately went with Sam Seaborn because… well, hello. Rob Lowe’s casting in the ultra-prestigious drama The West Wing felt like a giddy little gift. We had somehow missed this Rob Lowe entirely, jumping right from baby-face to sleaze. So it seems only right to feel like we’re scooting a little bit back towards heartthRob (ugh I hate myself and yet I won’t delete it) territory here. Earnest, brilliant, preachy, infuriating Sam Seaborn. Lest you forget that Rob Lowe is an absolute pleasure to watch, Sam is here to remind you. My favorite moment is a conversation between him and President Bartlet:
Yeah. I believe this guy will run for president one day. I hope he wins.
1. Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock (2006 – 2013)
It is impossible for me to consider anyone else as Jack Donaghy except maybe a lesser Baldwin. But no, nope, not even that would suffice. I can only imagine the deep relief Tina Fey felt when Baldwin accepted the role that had been written with him in mind. It was a pretty big leap, after all. He’d been an A-list movie star but had fallen a bit out of favor thanks to his uglier public tirades (against, you know, the paparazzi, his ex-wife Kim Basinger, his own daughter). But we all knew he could be funny. He routinely killed on SNL, where he was a welcome guest host. He was charming as hell in guest stints on Friends and Will & Grace. It makes me happy to know that another generation will now love Alec Baldwin as much as I do. Full disclosure: he is from my hometown so I am obliged to feel motherly and proud of him, no matter what he does.