[This is a review of Review season 2, episode 10. There will be SPOILERS.]
“Life. It’s literally all we have. But is it any good?” These are the words that begin each episode of Review, and, thanks to Andy Daly’s inflection, and the fact that the life of Forrest MacNeil (the character he plays) is a hilarious horror show of poor decisions unfolding before the eyes of everyone watching, it’s funny every single time. Some shows start with a catchy theme, others with a thrilling cold open. Review begins with a question asked in earnest by a man who may be the most obliviously destructive human being on the planet.
Even though Forrest’s actions have impacted (and ended) the lives of others (as seen in an ill-fated excursion with his ex-father-in-law, and again in season 2 with the unfathomably bleak, maddening, and hilarious ‘Murder, Magic 8 Ball, Procrastination’), it is typically the intrepid host of the show within a show who finds himself worse for wear after each “randomly chosen viewer-submitted topic.” And while season 1 made a sharp turn into darkness (and Forrest’s questionable mental state) with the series-defining episode, ‘Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes’ – which led Forrest to eventually reject his show after seeing the personal damage it had wrought – season 2 has utilized his return as a means of exploring an uncomfortable notion about its protagonist: He’s the villain of his own story.
But Forrest MacNeil isn’t the type of villain you would see on any other show. He’s a terrifyingly real everyman, who is not only unaware his villainy, but maintains the belief he’s doing a public service by perpetuating it. Watching Forrest fail again and again is part of the dark appeal of the show, but the reason for coming back is the humanness Daly infuses in a character otherwise defined by an exasperating tenacity. And so, at the intersection of self-deception and single-mindedness, Review finds what makes it tick.
The tendency to continuously pick at sores caused by a person’s failure is one thing, but the show takes it to another level entirely. The result is one of TV’s most potent explorations of unhappiness and self-inflicted pain, wrapped up in form of a hilarious comedy. Potentially unwelcoming as that notion is, though, Review shields the audience from the avalanche of hurt by doing what Forrest does best: focus on the task at hand.
This ability to remain blinkered to the larger implications of Forrest’s actions – either by the character himself, or as the viewer – makes the show far more palatable than it would be otherwise. The likelihood of an audience being that devoted to a schadenfreude is a little bit of a stretch, so the show wisely remands the consequences to the fringes of the story. This season alone, Forrest has lost two romantic interests – one to his review of blackmail and the other to the unexpectedly violent repercussions of his review of starting a cult. He’s also seen both of his father’s homes destroyed, and after winding up in jail with a murder charge, even his father (played by Max Gail) has left the destructive orbit of Forrest MacNeil. All of this happens onscreen, but it never becomes the sole focus of the narrative. Regardless what happens, Forrest always finds himself back on set, ready to dole out a star rating or be handed a new topic by his announcer A.J. (Megan Stevenson).
There are echoes of last season’s finale in ‘Conspiracy Theory,’ which begins with Forrest reviewing what it’s like to believe in a conspiracy theory. While the premise is certainly different, the implications of assigning blame to the many tragedies that have befallen him rings familiar. This time, however, there’s a horrible twist in that the light bulb turning on above Forrest’s head doesn’t direct him to the real culprit (i.e., himself and his steadfast commitment to the show) but rather his show’s producer, Grant (James Urbaniak).
“You certainly learn a lot about a person when you ransack their office,” Forrest says after mounting circumstantial evidence has him convinced Grant masterminded every life ruining or near-death experience subsequently translated into “groundbreaking television.” His obliviousness is heartbreaking, and yet the finale makes good sport out of Forrest’s quest to discover his misfortunes aren’t merely random, but rather are the work of some malevolent force that controls his fate – as is the key to all popular conspiracy theories (and personal excuses).
No one is ever the villain of his or her own story, and Forrest is determined to prove that point, going so far as to suggest Grant is actually a woman named Gretchen who was once in love with his now ex-wife Suzanne (Jessica St. Clair). What he refuses to see, is that his tribulations are of his own doing. This makes the character frustrating, but also frustratingly (and perhaps even frighteningly) relatable. So it’s fitting when, on the run from a Navy SEAL hunting him with a paintball gun, Forrest goes off halfcocked, steals a car and winds up tumbling over a bridge into a river, dragging Grant along with him.
It’s the sort of ending that, like season 1, would make for an appropriate series finale; Forrest’s devotion to his own program ultimately does him in. And should the show be renewed for season 3 (and is certainly should be), could also make for a hilarious undoing, as they did with the mock press conference announcing the sophomore season. Perhaps the funniest thing about Review and Forrest and Grant’s Reichenbach-like fall is that, even in failure – or perhaps, from Grant’s point of view, especially in failure – Forrest MacNeil cannot be stopped from making fantastic television.
Screen Rant will update you with news regarding the future of Review as soon as it is made available.
Photos. Danny Feld/Comedy Central