Back in March, Comedy Central stunned me in a very good way with “Review” (aka “Review with Forrest MacNeil”), starring Andy Daly as a milquetoast “reviewer of life” who will try any experience his audience requests, from drug addiction to becoming a racist. It was both a superb showcase for the incredibly game Daly, but dark and brilliant and hilarious in the ways in which each stunt and episode built on what had come before, so that it became clear this was about a man whose job was destroying his life. The fourth episode, which opens with Forrest being asked to eat 15 pancakes in one sitting, remains the single funniest half hour on television so far this year, and I remain skeptical that anything anywhere will be able to beat it. (It's embedded below.)
The finale aired last night, and I have a few thoughts on it, the first season as a whole, and what if anything the future might bring for poor Forrest, coming up just as soon as I invent a time-locked muzzle to keep overweight people from snacking…
One of the big questions of “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes” was why Forrest didn't simply tell his wife he was divorcing her for the sake of the show, and Daly had said in some interviews that we would eventually find out what she did and didn't know about his work. That paid off hugely in the finale, where it finally dawns on her that all of this craziness – including the death of her father in space, in the series' funniest joke (though I prefer “Pancakes” overall as an episode) – has been for the sake of the show, and where we see that he can't bring himself to either admit this or break character, so deep and self-destructive is his commitment to this ridiculous job. It's a moment of genuine pathos and heartbreak in the midst of what's otherwise been an absurd season involving orgies and a road rage-fueled Jason Mantzoukas driving off a cliff. And that in turn led to the wonderful moment, paying off both the episode and the season, as Forrest gave the same “I quit” speech for the third time, but sincerely for only the first time, and with the horrible Grant getting the bare minimum that was coming to him with that punch. For a show that has been all about putting its hero into humiliating situations, it was a fully earned moment of triumph.
The question is, what's next? The Australian series on which “Review” is based was able to get two seasons out of the concept, but I don't know if the first of those ended in such a definitive way as this. For Forrest to return to the show could come across as undoing the very thing that made the finale great. On the other hand, if the idea is that Forrest and Suzanne have reconciled, and she's amenable to him continuing so long as he's honest with her – and even if she winds up participating for a bit, the way Forrest's second wife briefly did – that could work. The individual sketches on the show are funny in and of themselves, but what made this show special – and an early contender for my best of 2014 list – was the way in which we got a genuine, tragic character arc for Forrest even in the midst of these seemingly isolated ideas. So I could imagine a season where Forrest tries “Review” again on his own terms – and where, of course, that would fail completely and utterly.
I suppose it depends on what Daly wants to do, but these nine episodes of “Review” function as a perfect close-ended black comedy tale, and if we never get another episode, I will still have my memories of Forrest realizing that the pancakes couldn't kill him because he was already dead, or attending the custody hearing dressed as Batman, or watching his ex-father-in-law's corpse floating in zero gravity, or telling Grant (while speaking in his ridiculous Irish brogue) that he isn't fit to produce a ham sandwich.
Five stars. (And I say that even though I was tempted to dock Comedy Central a half-star to full star for obnoxious timeslot shenanigans that forced me to have to seek out the episode's final minute online after my recording cut off.)
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