When watching Andy Daly‘s (Eastbound & Down) new dark Comedy Central series Review, with Forrest MacNeil, based on the Australian mockumentary series Review, with Myles Barlow, viewers must be struck by how this isn’t an actual reality show. Daly’s out of touch, nerdy Forrest is the presenter of a show where he is a “life reviewer,” because “life: it’s literally all we have. But the question is, is it any good?” Forrest’s kind of critical review is for the experience of life itself. The fake show’s viewers send in videos, emails and texts asking Forrest to review things like addiction, going to a high school prom, being a racist, hunting, and more. Nothing is too big or too trivial for Forrest, but it soon begins to take its toll. Hit the jump for more.
It’s clear in Review‘s first episode that the show’s humor skews dark. Forrest’s inaugural review is of stealing, which begins with petty theft and escalates quickly to armed robbery, with his unpaid intern and unimpressed secretary acting as the muscle and the getaway driver. The intern is shot, and Forrest tells him it was a pointless way for him to die (the wound is not remotely fatal). But the consequences don’t quite match the exhilaration of the experience, leaving “stealing” with a final review of two out of five stars (the lowest rating is a half star).
This is but the first of a myriad of obstacles that Forrest is challenged to (about three per episode), based on the inquires from fans. There are both macro and micro arcs happening in each half hour, as well as throughout the season. The jokes come fast and often subtly, but there’s plenty of broad comedy, too. Forrest also becomes increasingly depressed and despondent as a result of carrying out these life experiences. The rules of his show — which he set up — keep him locked in a hell of his own creation. He’s unable to say no to any experience for review, which makes a later episode about divorce an emotional train wreck.
The escalation of each life experience to absurd levels is expected after the introduction we get with Forrest’s experiences with stealing, but what makes Review a very good comedy is that it carries over plot points from episode to episode. Sometimes a skill (or a weakness) that Forrest picked up or experienced early on will make an appearance or be alluded to later, and decisions he makes end up having consequences as things go on. That reflexivity gives Review a depth that a comedy of its kind might not otherwise have if it only focused on the extremes and gags of the experiences.
One of the most interesting, but least sensical, things about Review though is how no one in Forrest’s life connects his behavior to his show. When he calls his black neighbor the N-word for a segment about being a racist, no one suspects this could be him trying on a hat, as part of what he does for a living. (Although in that particular case, there’s a great twist at the end that makes everything come together in an unexpected way).
Ultimately, what makes Review so good is Andy Daly’s cherubic face and earnest portrayal of Forrest, paired with such bleakness. In a segment about making a sex tape (which he does with a life-sized doll), he says good-naturedly, “I unleashed a barrage of sex talk. ‘Good evening! You look lovely. I want you to know this doesn’t always go right for me ….'”
By the fourth episode though, as Forrest is staring into the void of his life, he’s asked to review what it’s like to eat an exorbitant amount of pancakes. Initially resistant (“this certainly is an upsetting number of pancakes”), but ultimately pushed to keep to his own rules, he acquiesces: “maybe I understood, in the darkest recess of my soul, that these pancakes couldn’t kill me. Because I was already dead.”
Review does become increasingly bleak, but it keeps itself from being too dark by putting forth such a sincere desire (on Forrest’s part) to commit to and see through these terrible things in the name of his show. In a way, Review is the ultimate reality show, and the idea of a person soliciting requests from the internet to go through difficult, and occasionally great, experiences so that others don’t have to, seems like a darkness that will soon be reality (and it’s surprising it isn’t). His pretensions and faux-scientific beliefs about the magnitude and importance of his work add to the humor, but also to the cringe-factor (Review is definitely a solid entry into the Cringe genre). There’s a tragedy about his disconnect between how he sees himself and his work, and how those around him perceive him. His producer prompts, “remember how you told me about the guy growing fungus on a stick, and everybody told him to knock it off? And he was gonna, but then it turned out to he be penicillin? This could of be your penicillin, Forrest.” Penicillin? Five stars!
Review premieres Thursday, March 6th at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.