Oh, Forrest McNeil. You overcommitted, short-sighted nincompoop. Oh Review, Andy Daly’s absolutely brilliant meta dark dramedy that fuels his insatiable desire to tirelessly evaluate anything and everything the unfortunate host is requested to review — no matter how dangerous, life-threatening or simply impractical it might be, either to himself or to those around him, including those foolish enough to love or care for him. In an already-excellent era for TV, Review was, nonetheless, a consistently hilarious, persistently heartwrenching and endlessly uncomfortable character study that’ll likely go down as one of Comedy Central’s most excellent original series — even if, yes, it was a remake of Phil Lloyd’s similarly short-lived ABC2 satire, Review with Miles Barlow.
Having survived multiple death threats and an abundance of self-inflicted/audience provoked tragedies and misery, Forrest (Daly) remains frustratingly dedicated to his work, which is the “very important” art of life reviewing, which involves taking either trivial or gravely dangerous requests (i.e. demands) from his savage, merciless viewers. Even when he briefly comes to his senses and ditches the show for good, there’s always the nefarious influence of his deceptive producer, Grant (James Urbaniak), the devil on his shoulder who forces Forrest, again and again, to believe that he’s finally on the path to greatness, even as the thinning tightrope known as his miserable existence wabbles. He’s like a dumber, more selfish Walter White, or an older, less talented variation of Whiplash‘s Andrew Neiman. Despite multiple red herrings, Forrest continues to pursue the reckless endangerment to his personal and professional well-being that is Review.
It’s a funnier, and ultimately bleaker, TV embodiment of Harry Chapin’s immortally heartbreaking “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Forrest McNeil, a hopeless man who should still know better at his point, sacrifices everything, including his wife and child, to continue reviewing whatever meaningless task/unfortunate assignment is thrown in his lap. In this case, Review‘s swan song finds Forrest reviewing both Cryogenics and Being Struck by Lightning, both of which metaphorically and/or literally put Forrest’s life on the line, yet again. With Cryogenics, Forrest believes that he’ll be frozen for years and centuries, while his family, “friends” and practically everyone else he knows live on without him. Of course, Forrest soon realizes that Cryogenics, as provided by the store near the mall, is basically a beauty enchantment treatment, with little-to-no actual repercussions. But Forrest, in his dumbfounded, melodramatic state of mind, believes this is the review that finally taught him the error of his ways, that made him see what’s in front of him. That includes his overly-forgiving ex-wife, Suzanne (Jessica St. Clair), who hopes for Forrest’s eventual redemption, even with the overwhelming evidence suggests that’ll never come. Yet Forrest is truly renewed, and it appears that his actual life is won back.
But that’s before Forrest is asked to review Being Struck by Lightning, which literally forces our inconsiderate host to, once again, put his life on the balance and test fate. Because the gods want to punish Forrest for his cruel ill-treatment of others, Forrest lives to see another day, even when his loyal, unpaid intern Josh (Michael Croner) — one of the few men stupider than his boss — finds both of his legs broken by the incident. Of course, Forrest neglects such malice to field his next review, and it’s one that the host never saw coming. It’s from Suzanne herself, pleading her overworked ex-husband to review Not Reviewing Anything Ever Again, or else she’ll finally walk away with their child. It’s a bold, daring proposition, one that Forrest finally seems to accept. But that’s before he decides to field Grant’s advice, and you can imagine how that goes.
Grant, err, grants Forrest the privilege of living a happy, review-less life with his neglected family, where he can finally return to loving his wife and caring for his kid, but wouldn’t his son be prouder of his dad if he actually achieved his best self through the show? Wouldn’t Forrest be the better man if he provided his worth through Review? Of course not, anyone else would say. But most people don’t think the way Forrest does. Forrest MacNeil sees the world through the prism of Review, even if the ratings and the viewers aren’t coming in. As a result, Forrest vetoes Suzanne’s plead to find stability and the poorly-rationalizing host moves on to his next review, which is Getting Pranked. A seemingly harmless request that proves closer to Forrest’s demise than you’d imagine.
In the midst of waiting to be pranked, Forrest receives some devasting news from Grant: Review is canceled. But how can this be? Forrest does important, life-alternating work. Surely, this must be a mistake! Or, quite possibly, it’s a cruel hoax orchestrated by his wheelchair-bound producer. Yes, that must be it! Because how can Review possibly be axed?! It can’t! No way. Not when Forrest sacrificed his family to continue its pursuit. As a result, Forrest watches his legacy diminish with a goofy grin strapped to his face. Josh tearfully says goodbye. Tee hee. His co-host A.J. Gibbs (Megan Stevenson) has her own travel series? What a joke. His straight-faced, no-nonsense secretary Lucille (Tara Karsian) offers a rare moment of emotional sincerity? Yeah, sure. See you soon, Lucille. The entire set is taken down? Geez, the staff certainly committed themselves this time. Oh well, we’ll see how far this “prank” goes when Forrest returns next time!
Of course, Forrest won’t be back. At least, not for now. Review is genuinely canceled, and we might never know how long Forrest deludes himself into thinking otherwise. And perhaps it’s the ultimate off-screen wake-up call Forrest needs, even if it’s coming way too late. Because where does one go when the very thing they devoted their life to is gone permanently? Sadly, if quite thankfully, we won’t see Forrest MacNeil find out.
What a brutal, bleak way to end such a remarkably hysterical cringe-worthy comedy. And I mean that in the best possible way. Daly’s dutiful, unflinching persistence to give Forrest MacNeil the painful, if tragically fitting, demise he deserves is exactly the sort of unbearable, richly thematic depth Review handles so beautifully and quite morosely. Alongside co-creator Jeffrey Blitz, who directed every episode, Daly created one of the most starkly, engrossingly significant comedy series I’ve ever had the pleasure (and displeasure) to witness. Review is a stunning exploration into one’s follies in the face of personal growth, however eccentric that might be, especially when it’s actually failure masked as triumph. It’s a poignant, downright poetic mockumentary dramedy that, thankfully, never lost its step and never failed to provide the comedy goods, even as its most intentionally disparaging. It’s simply an excellent series, through and through, and how we deserved such a wonderfully painful existential comedy series, I do not know.
Review gets five stars.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed reading these as much as I did writing them.