At the end of Review’s second season, host Forrest MacNeil (show creator Andy Daly) accepted the review of being hunted, something his producer Grant (James Urbaniak) organized. It nearly drove Forrest insane, and when he confronted Grant and his militia on a bridge over a river, Forrest in his desperation grabbed onto him and sent them both over the edge, plunging, presumably, to their deaths. It’s not the kind of ending one would expect from a comedy series, and yet it was perfect.
Forrest and Grant surviving the fall is almost as miraculous as Review getting a third and final season. The overlooked but hugely inventive series wrapped over a year and a half ago, but Daly decided to bring it back for one final run. With each short season, the show has grown increasingly dark, as the reviews Forrest does for his TV show bleed over into his real life and ruin it. He divorced his wife, was stranded at sea, feigned having cancer, was addicted to cocaine, became a cult leader, and murdered someone all in the name of the show (and this is just a small, small sampling of his exploits).
Yet through an unfailingly sunny optimism and a unique interpretation of the reviews asked of him by viewers, Forrest has been able to persevere. Some things, however, have stuck — the divorce and broken relationship with his wife continues to haunt him, and Season 3 finds him on trial for that murder (which he committed in self-defense). And yet the show finds a dark humor there as well. Forrest eats moldy food and both evacuates his bowels and projectile vomits in the courtroom during jury selection. In a later episode, he is experiencing life as Helen Keller on the day that his attorney decides, bafflingly, to put him on the witness stand where he remains mute.
But because Forrest remains resilient, so too can we, even when this show takes the concept of cringe comedy to new and extreme heights. It goes beyond cringing, in fact, to a kind of wonderment at how the show will surprise and horrify us next. When Forrest accepts eating a new style of burrito from what looks like a nice chain restaurant, he finds that the submission was 6-months old, and the restaurant is now closed (though he can buy an old burrito on Craig’s list). So instead of a pleasant experience, we’re reminded of episodes full of existential dread like “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes” (which might be the best episode of the series), or other instances where — despite the availability of now unlimited veto power — Forrest remains profoundly committed to the integrity of his work.
In the last few years, comedy series have gone from being a collection of self-contained episodes (that connect through place or characters, but not necessarily through a larger narrative arc), to structuring themselves more like dramas. In that style, what happens episodically feeds into a larger story, and the events of each episode have consequences for what comes next. Review takes that to a new level, subverting the half-hour comedy expectation. Though it is designed be episodic and even segmented in a way where the consequences of Forrest’s actions could easily have been skipped, instead, it makes each episode nothing but a collection of consequences. It presents the age-old struggle of a work/life balance (or more accurately, the perils of not having one) as an excruciatingly brutal fable, starring a man who is doomed to repeat his mistakes — yet always with a smile.
Rating: ★★★★ — Still brutal, smart, and without mercy
Review returns for its final season on Comedy Central Thursday, March 16th.