Sketch comedy shows don't usually have story arcs, even when they feature recurring characters. The Target Lady on “SNL” didn't go on a complex character journey over multiple seasons. Jordan Peele's character in the “Key & Peele” soul food sketch didn't reappear a few episodes later having turned cannibal after enjoying a human foot with his cellar door and stork ankles.
Comedy Central's new series “Review with Forrest MacNeil” (it premieres tonight at 10, and the first episode is already online) is sketch-y in structure, but following the same main character each time: Andy Daly's chipper title character, a “reviewer of life” who will undergo any experience his viewers request – say, going to the prom, or becoming a thief – and then assign a rating to it on a five-star scale.
As a series of isolated vignettes about a spectacularly dull, whitebread guy being a surrogate for his audience's fantasies, “Review” would be funny enough on its own. Daly, a fixture on the comedy scene (he's been in multiple Adult Swim series, was a recurring player on “Eastbound & Down” and frequently stops by “Comedy Bang! Bang!”) is game for anything, and the first couple of episodes do a nice job of both putting Forrest in incongruous places and making Forrest's various tasks tie together by the end.
But then I got to the third episode – which begins with Forrest performing the surprisingly hilarious and disgusting task of eating 15 pancakes in one sitting – and “Review” revealed itself to be something much more complicated, dark, and brilliant, in which the weight of all these viewer requests begins to take a horrific toll on Forrest's life. We're only a few days into March, but I will be very impressed if any half hour of television this season is laugh-out-loud funnier, and shocked if one manages to do that while being as sad as this one is. I initially put the DVD in out of basic professional curiosity, then watched the second episode because the first was just amusing enough to continue, and by the time I finished the third and fourth all I wanted to do was watch more “Review with Forrest MacNeil.”
This approach wouldn't work for most Comedy Central shows – part of the genius of something like “Key & Peele” or “Inside Amy Schumer” is that anything can happen in any sketch, without fear of consequence for the next – but it is a beautiful, terrible thing here. We use a grading system here, but for Forrest's sake: 4 and 1/2 stars!