“Life! It’s literally all we have! But is it any good?”
Often by the end of any TV series’ first season, I have a very clear idea of how badly I want to hear whether the series has been renewed for a second season. Even if shows get off to an incredible and exciting start, I tend to think that second seasons can frequently be a better indicator of how well a series will be able to maintain actual longevity and quality.
When it comes to Comedy Central’s latest comedy series, Review, I finished its first season finale realizing that I would honestly welcome either a season renewal or series cancellation with equally open arms.
The series follows the trials and tribulations of self-proclaimed “life critic,” Forrest MacNeil, who hosts an adorably low-rent show in which he firmly commits himself to reviewing literally any life experience that his viewers ask of him – including cocaine addiction, being Batman (seriously), going to space, and experiencing a final day on Earth. *Note: If even a single bit of this synopsis sounds appealing in any way, quit reading this review and go watch the series now. Promise you won’t regret it.
As someone who is generally pretty picky when it comes to sketch comedy programs – each episode contains roughly three sketches/reviews – I was fairly wary of checking Review out. And by the pilot’s end, I already realized that the thing that truly made this show so special is how masterfully the episode managed to tie up and connect all three of its sketches by the end of the half-hour. And week after week for the rest of the series, without fail, the closing minutes of Sketch 3 would suddenly call back and pay off the events of Sketch 1 (often in an excruciatingly hilarious and painful fashion) and really make each episode feel truly insane and cohesive.
And although the show rightly belongs on Comedy Central and functions primarily as a half-hour designed to make you laugh, creator/star Andy Daly consistently grounded the hilarity in an expanding set of realistic and dark consequences that added a meaningful shade of pain to each sketch. Blissfully oblivious Forrest could unfailingly emerge from each review with the delivery of a cheerful “____ out of 5 stars” rating with a smile on his face, but his voice would always carry a palpable undercurrent of true darkness – a conflicted denial of the tangible damage inflicted upon himself and those he loves (best embodied by his review of “Divorce,” in which yes, he actually divorces the love of his life) for the sake of a goddamn TV show.
Any new viewer could tune in midway through the series and enjoy the hilarity of a given episode without its larger context, but the show expertly found ways to reward (*cough* and simultaneously torture) its loyal viewers – maintaining a loose continuity that ultimately combined the events of the series into a cumulative pitch-black/comedic conclusion. The divorce review that occurs in the third episode (out of nine) resonates for the rest of the season, with Forest trying to win back his wife while still having to review things like orgies, road rage, and having a best friend. A sweet and sad sense of loneliness infects every action of this ridiculously milquetoast guy, and you really can’t help but root for him, despite his utterly idiotic committal to the mission of his show.
And make no mistake, Review really is one of the funniest programs on TV. Watching Forest shovel 30 pancakes into his mouth and attempting to woo Ashley Tisdale into sleeping with him had me laughing out loud more than anything I saw in other comedies this spring, like Parks and Recreation or Brooklyn Nine-Nine. But the darker elements are really what elevate this show to a different level than any other comedy, except for something like Louie. The events of the episode “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes,” left a pit in my stomach for hours after and without a doubt, Review was a show that lingered in my mind for weeks at a time after each episode ended.
The finale truly stands out more than anything – after an entire season of not knowing whether Forrest’s (ex)wife is even aware of the review show he has sacrificed his marriage for, she finally confronts him while he is in-character for one of his reviews. As he refuses to break character for the sake of the show, his anguished wife finally drops the bomb: “Forrest. Is this for the show? I need you… to stop.” After everything the show has put its audience through for an entire season, the line carries real, unbearable weight – we know Forest wants to tell her the truth more than anything, but we also know his childish commitment to the show is something he can’t simply turn off. And good lord, the choice Forest ends up making is the perfect – and I completely 100% mean, perfect – culmination of the arc of the episode individually, and the entire season as a whole.
The ending is comfortably ambiguous, with Forrest passionately quitting his reviewer job (just after spending Sketch 1 of the episode reviewing “Quitting a Job” elsewhere) and escaping into the night to chase down his wife and tell her the truth. The credits quietly roll over a “Missing Person” advert for Forest, and the audience is given no indication if the man will be back next year for more.
And frankly, whether or not I ever see Forrest MacNeil again, I feel pretty privileged to have gotten an ending as beautiful as that. If I turn on Comedy Central next year and catch Forest eager and ready to review something like chemotherapy, I’ll gladly welcome the chance to laugh and cringe even more. But if I’m left hanging with the idea of this painfully earnest man learning how to liberate himself from the evil and toxic show that ruined his life, I’ll be just as content.
Review Season 1 is currently available to view on the Comedy Central mobile app.