[This is a review of Review season 2, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
Andy Daly has always been a welcome addition to whatever he's been in, from his recurring role as a callous, app-developing doctor in Silicon Valley to bit parts in shows like Enlisted and Modern Family, and even a small role in Transformers: Dark of the Moon (which, frankly could have used a lot more Daly and a lot less everything else). And so, when Comedy Central kept Review – a series he was headlining – on the shelf for almost an entire year, it felt as though audiences would have to wait to see what kind of laughs they were in for when Daly wasn't just a spotlight-stealing part of cast, but the driving force behind an entire show.
Mercifully, the series eventually premiered, and although audiences were slow to catch on (as is lamentably the case in an increasingly crowded television environment), the series' unique blend of comedy and painfully funny tragedy eventually became part of the overall TV discussion – largely following the critical response from the absurdly comical, yet heartbreakingly disastrous 'Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes.' In that episode, Daly demonstrated just how far his character, "reviewer of life" Forrest MacNeil, would go for his show and for his audience – which, in this case was, eat 15 pancakes, divorce his wife, and then eat 30 pancakes.
By bookending the dissolution of a still-happy marriage – for the purpose of a television program – with something as pointless and incongruous as binge eating breakfast food, Review solidified itself as the kind of comedy capable of navigating the choppy waters of human emotion, and being brutal with its characters' feelings, without coming off as flippant. Throughout season 1, Review (the fictional show in the show) led Forrest to lose his wife, cause the death of his father-in-law, and essentially set fire to everything in his life. By the end of it, Forrest MacNeil was a broken man, a broken man without a television show. It was uncomfortable to watch – ruthless at times – but also consistently hilarious.
Because of the ease with which the show doles out its laughs and its punishment, it's hard to talk about Review without gushing. In fact, the first 10 minutes of the season 2 premiere, 'Brawl, Blackmail, Gloryhole,' are probably the funniest 10 minutes of any show you're likely to see on television this year. And the rest of the episode isn't too shabby either.
After quitting his job last season and seeing his world crumble before him, Forrest is back in front of the camera, insisting, to the incredulity of his announcer/co-host A.J. (Megan Stevenson) "the destruction of my life was anything but pointless." It's that kind of utter commitment and borderline naïveté that makes Forrest such an intriguing character, enhanced only by the fact that Daly's delivery of each and every line is pure gold.
Despite the disaster of last season, Forrest isn't going into season 2 without some insurance; this time around, he has the option of vetoing two audience recommendations. And yet, even in an episode entitled 'Brawl, Blackmail, Gloryhole,' the intrepid reviewer declines to use his veto power. It's that kind of subtle glimpse into Forrest's mind of that makes him so much more than just a simple punching bag for an increasingly cruel audience. His devotion to the show may be inexplicable to those watching, but it is also inextricably linked to who he is. Daly's MacNeil is an almost dangerously optimistic character, basically a human Webble (he wobbles, but he doesn't fall down…well, not permanently, anyway). It's such an apt comparison that when Forrest is shot three times, attempting to engage a line-cutter at an ATM in a bare-knuckle brawl, he narrates the near-death experience by saying, "The extreme blood loss caused me to slip into a coma, which I can only describe as restful."
Review has sketch comedy written into its DNA; each review is essentially a skit in and of itself. But rather than simply jump from skit-to-skit, utilizing the framework of Forrest's program to connect two or three segments, there is an effective component in each episode serving as a bridge, giving the sections an emotional cohesiveness. Usually, that bridge is Forrest MacNeil himself. It's hysterical to see the host of Review go through embarrassing and otherwise horrific, life-ruining events, but Daly's performance is so genuine, the audience can't help but care about the character. Despite his being something of a doofus, and ostensibly the cause of his own misery, it's impossible not to feel for the guy.
Case in point: In the premiere, Forrest's ex-wife stops by his hospital room while he is still in a coma. His wife (played by Jessica St. Clair) doesn't have any lines, but her brief appearance transforms one simple scene into the culmination of what the show has already cost Forrest. And although that disastrous relationship isn't examined any further in the premiere, Review is ready to put Forrest's love life to the test, by introducing the amazing Allison Tolman (Fargo) as his nurse and new love interest, Marisa.
After teaching Forrest to walk again (among other things), Marisa's penchant for swiping the leftover prescriptions of her deceased patients plays into Forrest's review of blackmail. The set-up is such that the viewer can see what's coming a mile away, and yet such an all-seeing vantage point only makes the inevitable that much more painful and awkward to watch. Tolman is terrific in her brief role as a woman taken completely off guard by Forrest's admittedly ridiculous actions. Marisa at once vulnerable and completely relatable – despite the outlandishness of her actual situation – but Daly's performance, and the fact that Forrest never explains his actions as having to do with his show, grounds the circumstances in something close to tragedy – a mostly self-inflicted tragedy, but tragedy nonetheless.
The effectiveness of just how uncomfortable Review can make things, for both its protagonist and its audience, is a testament to the work being done by Daly and the show's stable of writers. If we didn't care about Forrest to begin with, these events wouldn't resonate on any level other than being funny in a "look what horrible thing just happened" kind of way. Perhaps that's why the humor in the final review mostly falls flat – outside of Forrest's gloryhole decorum, anyway. The circumstances may not be as funny or meaningful as the previous two reviews, but the segment keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat thanks to the intimation that something supremely uncomfortable might be on the other side of that wall.
That is thankfully not the case, as it turns out, and the show is better off for not having gone there. But that's what separates the series from its main character: No matter how awful the ramifications are for him, Forrest's stick-to-itiveness and commitment to going anywhere helps make Review one of the funniest and most enjoyable series on television right now. And comedy is better off as a result of Forrest MacNeil's willingness to go…well, anywhere.
Review airs Thursday nights @10pm on Comedy Central.
Photos: Mark Davis/Comedy Central