There’s this magic trick that Comedy Central’s Review does, and for the life of me I can’t figure out how the show does it. Review is a show about a seemingly sweet, naive man who just wants to improve the world around him by reviewing life experiences, that inevitably becomes as bleak and depressing as any show you can possibly imagine, tearing apart the lives of its main character and everyone he knows and loves, often in the most deliberately painful ways. And I watch it and I just laugh and laugh and laugh. There’s no way a show this dark should be so funny. There’s no way a show this funny should be so dark. And yet… POOF. Magic.
I mean, spoilers, but just look at the list of things that have happened to Forrest MacNeil and those around him this season. He got shot, fell in love with his nurse, then blackmailed her and sent her into a psychological tailspin that resulted in her going to jail on gun crimes. His actions led to his father losing two homes to fire and his wife almost marrying a serial philanderer, the latter of which was only stopped by Forrest drunkenly crashing the ceremony to reveal her new love began with him catfishing her. He permanently deformed his penis. He was directly responsible for one death, and indirectly responsible for something like two dozen more (depending on how you score things like his involvement in the cult raid and his culpability in the shivving of an imaginary prison inmate named Clovers). He went for a nice relaxing boat ride and ended up lost at sea for months. He’s currently missing after having a psychotic break and trying to murder-suicide his boss by jumping off a bridge into rocky whitewater rapids.
It really gets pretty crazy when you start ticking all of these off. And it makes you look a little crazy when you try explaining the show to people. “Well it’s about a guy who has to review life, and his fans write in to the fake TV show he has and make him kill someone and get divorced and be racist and stuff. It’s hilarious.”
But it is hilarious, especially when the pieces of the puzzle start coming together, as they did in the season two finale. The show’s mastermind and star, Andy Daly, tried to explain this a bit in a really interesting interview with Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall.
I don’t remember a conscious decision to make things go so badly for Forrest this season. We came in knowing that it’s fun to watch this idiot suffer and that Review is inherently a wrecking ball in his life and in the lives of those around him and we settled on the idea pretty early that Forrest would spend the first half of the season trying to build a new life and the second half trying to rebuild his old one. We knew the show (and Forrest’s own ineptitude) would thwart both efforts and from there it was just a matter of pitching ways that would happen. New girlfriends are sacrificed to the show, homes are destroyed, a loyal parent is tormented. That things got so violent and awful just speaks, I think, to the comedic instinct to always heighten the joke, to outdo ourselves and to continue to surprise the audience. But I also think that when Forrest agreed to come back to this show, knowing as he did then what this show was, he made himself a ripe target for more comeuppance.
A big part of the secret here — the misdirection in the magic trick, if we want to keep going with that analogy — is Daly himself. As anyone who has listened to his podcast or his appearances on Comedy Bang Bang can attest, he takes no small amount of joy out of creating perfectly nice characters and then taking a hard left turn into chaos. Couple that with the glasses and Forrest’s very beige wardrobe and Daly being beyond pleasant in interviews and non-character appearances, and it works like a sneak attack. “He… seems… so… nice. Why… is… he…?” It almost short circuits your brain a little, this sweet-seeming guy causing all this destruction.
All of which is to say this: Review is a good show. It’s funny and mean and sad and sometimes a little touching. But mostly it’s just funny, and in a way unlike anything else on television. (See season one’s “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes” and season two’s “Cult, Perfect Body” as examples.) There’s no word yet on whether it will be back for a third season. Hopefully it will, if only to hear his review of an attempted murder-suicide. And for all the other reasons, too, I guess.
Review, Season 2: 5 Stars