Okay, I finally started watching this show, properly. I am a HUGE Lisa Kudrow fan and had only seen a few episodes of this, but I finally decided to binge watch on HBO Go. So far I've only seen all of season one, and the first episode of season two, so here are my thoughts on that so far:
First and foremost: Lisa-[!@#$%^&*]-Kudrow. What an extraordinary talent. So often when someone shoots to superstardom on a show (especially a sitcom), it becomes disappointing to later find out that said actor is only good at playing that role (or ones like it). Boy, that could not be further from the truth with Lisa Kudrow. She was incredible as Phoebe, of course, but her work as Valerie is just breathtaking. Her constant looks to the camera, the way she never quite cries or even tears up, but you can tell she's hurt. Valerie would never show it: she always pushes on and to the next, but Kudrow's portrayal is so flawlessly layered that you can feel everything Valerie is feeling to the BONE, even though Valerie would never admit it. I think someone (DaytimeFan?) said this upthread, but this is by far Lisa Kudrow's finest work. I stand in awe.
Even watching 10 years later, this show was an absolutely biting portrayal of reality TV. My heart absolutely broke during the season one finale when Valerie saw the way she was edited and embarrassed. I was so happy things finally seemed to turn around for her in the end with the Leno appearance (even though that seemed to have been short lived.)
I absolutely love the relationship between Valerie and Mark. He is so patient (and oddly, very sexy), and you can tell that, even when he doesn't say much, he loves Val more than anything. Damian Young and Lisa have amazing chemistry. The bedroom cam provided some of the shows funniest moments, and I absolutely loved the running gag about them doing coke and him not wanting it to be shown (though he inadvertently keeps mentioning it.)
I also really, really loved the relationship between Juna and Val. Juna was really the only person outside of Val's immediate circle who showed her a lot of respect and I love the way that Val always called her "Baby Girl". I loved that they paralleled Juna's rising success with Valerie's feelings of irrelevancy and her desperation to "comeback". It would have been so easy for them to play Juna and Valerie as rivals, but making them true friends actually made it so much more poignant. You never got the feeling that Val was jealous of Juna. Sure, she wanted the success, but she was happy for Juna and there was a mutual respect there. Bravo to the writers for that.
Mickey is absolutely great. Again, great chemistry between him and Lisa. He never comes off as the stereotypical "gay friend", even when the writing included some cliches. It was just "on the nose" enough to work perfectly.
I really liked Jane, which may be random as she was possibly the least-developed main character during season one. However, she was just developed enough to work perfectly within the show. Again I loved her relationship with Valerie. Maybe it's just Lisa Kudrow who brings out the best in every one of her scene partners…Come to think, her scenes with Kellan Lutz were probably the best I've ever seen him do, too (not that that's necessarily saying much, LOL!).
I liked Tom well enough but wow did I absolutely LOATHE Paulie G. He is just the type of person I cannot stand, and the way he treated Valerie just made me absolutely sick to my stomach. It wasn't even the jokes or the occasional rude comments (things like the "Boyd Duzshesuk" gig were kind of funny), it was the way he almost refused to acknowledge her or treat her as a human being that really had me fuming. The actor (whose name escapes me right now) played the part very well though and, again, worked great with Kudrow. Some of her most breathtaking moments, IMO, were the ones where she tried to pretend that Paulie G's disrespect didn't cut her to the bone. She played it so well: She came across almost oblivious to his hurtful demeanor on the outside (until her big outburst against him, of course), but one look at her eyes and you could tell that the way he treated her really hurt her.
I'm probably forgetting some thoughts on season one, so I'll add more later if I think of it.
I've only seen the first episode of season two so far, but I love the premise and the way they set it up. Everyone (especially Lisa) stepped back into their roles perfectly.
The stuff with Lisa V and Andy was great and a perfect way to highlight the evolution of reality TV since Valerie started the trend way back when. The stuff at the Chateau was very painful to watch. Valerie getting punched was hard to stomach but also fit very will within the context of the show. Like DF said upthread, it was a perfect analogy for the character's journey.
I died when Mark asked her if she was doing another student film and Valerie spat back: "NO! I told you after the lat seven, never again!" I laughed out loud. Typical Val.
Not to sound like a broken record, but Lisa Kudrow is [!@#$%^&*] PHENOMENAL. Her "cold read" absolutely broke me down. Reading those horrible things about herself…I can't even imagine, but goddamn did she read the hell out of it. Bravo, Miss Kudrow. The fact that Paulie G even asked her to read that proves he's still the sick, twisted, evil [!@#$%^&*] he was in season one (heroin or not).
This show has this quality to it that makes it almost uncomfortable to watch. But in a good way. The writing and the setup are perfect. You cringe every time something bad happens to Valerie. It really makes you squirm. But Kudrow's portrayal and the character's persistence just makes you want to stick around and see it out, even though it can, at times, be hard to watch.
I cannot wait to continue watching and hope to discuss with you all!