I should have loved the first season of Review. It had all the right ingredients for an amazing TV Comedy: Andy Daly, one of today’s great comedians and improvisers, was producing and starring; the cast was stacked with incredible performers like Jessica St. Clair and James Urbaniak; and it had a similar premise to one of my favorite shows at the time, Nathan For You. It was getting critical acclaim the likes of which I hadn’t seen for ages.
And yet I found it more unpleasant than anything else. Review was always intended to be a cringe-comedy, but in its first season, more often than not, it veered dramatically toward ‘cringe’ and away from ‘comedy.’ Forrest MacNeil, Review‘s hapless hero, endured far too much emotional trauma over the course of Season 1 for Review to actually be enjoyable viewing. Now don’t get me wrong; I’m all for a David Brent-style sitcom doofus getting what’s coming to him, but unlike David Brent, Forrest never seemed to deserve all of the pain that ended up floating his way. (Yes, Forrest is an oblivious, naive moron lacking any sort of self-awareness, but other than that he’s basically a good dude.) More than that, really – it was a stretch to believe that Forrest would voluntarily endure all of it.
His divorce, for instance. Early in Season 1, Forrest was tasked to review ‘getting a divorce’ for his television show, “Review with Forrest MacNeil.” So he destroyed his life, and his family by unexpectedly asking his wife for a divorce. I was never able to suspend my disbelief far enough to believe that Forrest would do that for the sake of his TV show. He just seemed to love his wife too much, to be too much of a decent human person. There were many other such examples throughout the first season.
I grimaced my way through Season 1, laughing not unoften but feeling uncomfortable throughout.
Season 2 is a different story. Daly and co. have managed to perfect the Review model. While Forrest is put through vasts amounts of emotional turmoil in Review Season 2, most if not all of it is tied to some horrible physical trauma. The season overall is much more focused on Forrest putting himself in positions where he is susceptible to gunshots, archers, being buried alive, and prison riots; rather than divorce, child services, or accidentally killing a family member.
And as it turns out, it’s much funnier watching Forrest get shot than it is watching him break his wife’s heart; it’s much funnier watching him force his father to shoot him with a bow and arrow (multiple times) than it is watching him devastate the life of an innocent shopkeeper.
Daly has gotten so darkly creative with the ways he tortures Forrest it’s impossible not to laugh – Forrest’s review of “Being Alone in a Rowboat,” ostensibly his most peaceful review in a while, ends with him being lost at sea for three months, enough time for him to go legitimately insane. His review of “Sleeping With a Teacher” leads to him being ousted from a cult that he created and watching as his father’s house burns to the ground.
This season goes so big, so crazy, that even Forrest’s craziest decisions are believable, in context. And the level of physical abuse that Forrest goes through somehow dilutes his worst emotional moments – such as the time he sabotages his own sweet, apologetic speech at his ex-wife’s wedding rehearsal to go on a victorious tirade about the cheating groom; or the time he watches his ex-girlfriend (played by the awesome Lennon Parham), who now leads his cult, get shot multiple times; or the time he blackmails another girlfriend (played by the equally awesome Allison Tolman) until she shows up at his doorstep with a gun.
It’s a really fantastic season of TV. Andy Daly is brilliantly funny in every episode. He’s an inconspicuous comedian, but when he gets in character it’s an unbelievable transformation. Forrest MacNeil is, at this point, one of the best characters on TV. Jessica St. Clair is great as Suzanne, Forrest’s ex-wife, and the material she gets this season is far more interesting than what she got last season. James Urbaniak is back as Forrest’s evil boss Grant – like St. Clair, he’s given much better material this time around. Grant was not a big part of Season 1, yet his presence is felt in every episode of Season 2. Urbaniak is the perfect mix of sleazy, nefarious, and nerdy, and as a result it’s always fun when Grant shows up.
Review is a really good show made by really funny people. Five Stars!
Review Season 2 Rating: 5/5 stars