As our own Danger Guerrero said here, there and just about everywhere else he can find an outlet, Comedy Central’s Review is one of the best half hours on television. Its first season was a smash success with audiences and critics alike, and the cult hit is now back for a second bout of viewer-submitted review topics and poor life decisions on the part of host Forrest MacNeil.
Forrest’s doppelgänger, Andy Daly took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with us about Review‘s Australian roots, the ins and outs of the writers room, and what the final episode of the series might involve. Here’s a spoilery hint — Forrest dies! Not really. Well, kind of.
Review‘s first season was a big surprise, mainly because the audience wasn’t familiar with the original Australian show, Review with Myles Barlow. Do you feel like the first season’s success gave the team a big boost?
Yeah, definitely. I think in season one, we felt good about what we were doing. We were excited about what we were doing. We were serious about making a show that Comedy Central’s audience would like, but would bring new people to Comedy Central who aren’t already in their audience. We were very optimistic about all of those things, but we were also following our own instincts. There were certainly times when we looked at each other and just said, “Is anybody else going to find this funny outside of this room? Have we gone too far? Is this too crazy?” Having the first season air and get the response that it did was a huge boost to the idea of following our instincts. I think, going into season two, we kind of felt emboldened about our instincts a little bit. We can take this wherever we want to take it, and there will be, hopefully, an audience out there that will be appreciative of it and ready to receive it.
The first season borrowed a lot from the original. With it behind you, did you feel free to expand Forrest’s story in season two?
Our attitude was, yes, this has been a pre-existing Australian series, but we can take from it what we want and we can leave aside the things that we don’t want. We asked, “What do we love about what they did? What do we just want to take? What do we want to flat out steal from them? What do we want to change and take in a different direction?” Our show in season one was very different from their show, actually, but in this season, we didn’t go back and watch anything. We just kind of barreled ahead. I can only think of one topic in season two that they also did. Our treatment of this particular topic is quite similar to theirs because I love what they did with it.
You’ve talked elsewhere about how heavily scripted the show is. How much time did the writing team spend plotting the new season?
We gave ourselves less time to write season two, actually. We didn’t have to take the time that we did with season one figuring out basic things about how the show works, who Forrest is and how his world works. That is something, if I had to do it over again, I might to do differently. The challenges of writing a second season are different challenges, but I wouldn’t say that there are fewer challenges. It’s a different thing but it’s difficult, so it did feel a little bit like we didn’t have quite the time that I would’ve loved to have had. But yeah, we worked the scripts very, very hard through all the time we had. We actually did a little more writing during production than we did in season one, which is very challenging to do because I’m in every scene, and Jeffrey Blitz is directing every scene. So, it’s a little hard to get writing done while you’re doing that.
Improvising played a big role in season one, and maybe even a bigger role in season two. Probably because we were slightly more likely to get to the set, open up the script for the day and say, “Oh no, I don’t want to do that!” So, we did a fair amount of making it up as we go along. And the editors, I have found, lean towards things that were improvised. I think it’s because, in that mockumentary style, something that feels spontaneous feels more real, so the editors definitely have a preference for that. So, you’ll see a lot of little improvised moments here and there.
I imagine that, since this is the second season, everyone is comfortable enough with each other and the material to improvise more often.
Right. There’s a little bit more of an understanding of that. It’s an interesting show because it’s grounded in the real world, but we also take certain flights of insanity. Where exactly is the right line of reality versus uncertainty or insanity? It’s something that always has to be tested out or discussed.
Forrest’s personal life, and just how f*cked up it gets, is obviously a main focus of the show. However, one of my favorite things is the relationships (or lack thereof) he has with his Review coworkers, especially Producer Grant (James Urbaniak). Do you get to explore these further in the new season?
Definitely! The relationship between Forrest and Grant does get examined a fair amount in season two. You’ll have to wait for it, but we do zoom in a little bit on that dynamic between the two of those guys. We have a lot of fun with Forrest and all the people in his world. If Forrest wants to do this, they are there to help him and help push him where he says he wants to go, no matter how self-destructive it might be.
I’m eager to see what you’re talking about regarding Forrest and Grant’s relationship. The “this could be your penicillin” joke is one of the first season’s best.
A little behind the scenes of that. We were talking about that in the writers room, asking what would have been Forrest’s justification for doing these extreme things. Maybe he’s like the guy that discovered penicillin. I threw out this idea of “fungus on a stick.” Then, I said we should look up how penicillin was actually discovered, because I don’t think it was literally fungus on a stick. We should look up what it really was and put that in the script. But Jeffrey Blitz said, “No, I don’t think Forrest should understand that any better than you do.” So, yeah, “fungus on a stick” was truly my best stab at how penicillin was discovered.
How do you go about coming up with, writing and selecting the topics that Forrest must review?
Anything anybody comes up with ends up on an index card that ends up on that back wall of the writers room, which is just floor to ceiling index cards. These are grouped into different categories. Physical challenges, lifestyle challenges — I’m not sure what all the other categories are, but we’ve figured out some way of organizing them. Then we really start outlining the season by talking about what big things should happen. What’s the season-long narrative arc? So, those are different colored index cards that go up on the front wall of the writers room. Then, it’s just a matter of picking reviews off the back wall that feel like that they could help get at what’s happening to him in his life. Trying to crack them, make them work, and come up with little stories filled with lots of little jokes. A lot of the ones that we jam on, we end up feeling like, “Nah, that’s not going to work.” So, we send it back to the back wall. Luckily, we find enough that work.
Have there been review topics that were just too much, either for the writing team or Comedy Central?
In season one, we sent Comedy Central our scripts and they gave notes. There were a couple of review topics for which they said, “This feels like it’s a season three idea.” For another topic, they said, “This one is too sad.” So, there were a few segments in season one that we trashed based on network notes. In season two, that never happened at all. We only got a handful a helpful suggestions per episode, but I think they saw season one and how we executed it. They understood that we find things on set, so even if you feel like you’re not reading it on the page, it’ll be there in the cut.
There are plenty of topics that we threw back because we couldn’t make them work. I think this season, the only review that we wrote and didn’t use was the review of “What’s it like to attend your own funeral?” which sounds great! I never like to say that anything is dead for good, so I feel like it’s possible it could come back at a later time. We had two big challenges with it. One was that, “How famous is Forrest?” is a question we kind of don’t really want to address on the show. So, if he dies, is it a news story? That was one little issue we didn’t love having to fool with. The other was that, in our world, if it’s a grounded, realistic world, then this guy has died. And if a lot of people believe that he has died, it’s going to get really sad. He’s got a son and an ex-wife! We’ve even given him a father this season.
Forrest is so committed to his job, he doesn’t think what happens to him matters. It’s why he divorced his wife. Yet there’s a part, before attending your own funeral, where you have to be dead in order for there to be a funeral. How would this even happen?
I am so crazy that, even though this episode does not appear in this season, I don’t want to give any spoilers as to how we figured that out. I do feel like it could come back at another time because I love it so much in so many ways. But yes, Forrest did have to… part of attending your own funeral is faking your own death, so that was part of it.
To mirror the Comedy Central note about the “season three idea,” this sounds like something you could plan for the Review series finale whenever you decide to end the show. Basically, you’re doing what the Lost writing staff should have done.
What, plan out way ahead of time how we might end it?
So it makes sense at the end!
Yeah, that’s a good idea. It could be that, in this article, we have already spoiled how Review will end when it ultimately has to end. You never know!
The second season of “Review” premieres Thursday, July 30 at 10 p.m. EST on Comedy Central.
(This interview was edited and condensed.)