Gold Derby Emmy MVP: ‘Review’ is best new comedy of the year

“Review” is high-concept, but hard to define. It looks like a sketch show, but it is serialized. It also looks like a mockumentary, but it has a sketchier fourth wall than “Modern Family.” Each episode of “Review” begins with a letter from a viewer who is curious about a specific life experience. Whatever it may be, host Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly) embarks on that experience so that he can rate it out of five stars. Each episode contains two or three segments and is entirely fictional.

This half-hour series premiered on Comedy Central back on March 6 to little fanfare. Indeed, Metacritic tallied reviews from just 10 critics, compared to 38 for “Fargo.” So, it comes as quite a surprise that this is television’s best comedy series in years.

Comedy series often take a season to find themselves but “Review” arrived fully formed and confident. Seven of nine episodes in, this is shaping up to be the funniest first season of a comedy since “Arrested Development” back in 2003. 

“Review” would be a fine show — actually, a hilarious one — if it were nothing more than a string of ridiculous pipedreams individually realized. Some things make for inherently comedic situations, like the milquetoast host attempting to rob a bank or going about his everyday life in a Batman costume.

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The genius in the series lies in making the host not just “everyman,” but an actual character. Seeing the silly escapades take effect on his family adds darkness to the humor and a depth that would not be possible without the continuing story of Forrest’s own life in the background of each segment. 

The series was developed by Daly (“MADtv”), Emmy nominee Charlie Siskel and Jeffrey Blitz, who directed all of the episodes. Blitz won an Emmy for helming the Super Bowl episode of “The Office” and was an Oscar nominee for his documentary “Spellbound.”

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Among the guest stars on “Review” were Emmy nominees Fred Willard and Andy Richter, as well as Ashley Tisdale (“High School Musical”) and Nicolas D’Agosto, between roles on “Masters of Sex” and “How I Met Your Dad.”

As the series is a longshot for Emmys, it should enter just one episode for Best Writing. The pilot requires no background knowledge, is broadly comical and demonstrates the show’s potential when its three segments intersect, much like the “Modern Family” pilot, which won this race in 2010. The pilot would also make a great submission for Best Directing and for Daly. 

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Let’s analyze the pros and cons of this Gold Derby Emmy MVP.

PROS:

As HitFix scribe Alan Sepinwall, the father of modern television criticism, wrote, “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.”

The third episode reveals the series’ nature as subsequent episodes have a “previously on” recap. Erik Adams (The A.V. Club) called it: “an early frontrunner for one of 2014’s funniest half-hours.” 

The comedy was adapted from the Australian “Review with Myles Barlow,” which won consecutive Australian Film Institute Awards (Australia’s Emmys) for Best Comedy Series in 2009 and 2010.

The Emmys love multi-hyphenates, like Louis C.K. of “Louie” and Lena Dunham of “Girls.” Daly not only stars in the show, but also writes and executive produces it.

Daly has added exposure from guest-starring in the pilot for “Silicon Valley.”

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CONS:

Daly is not an established Emmy entity.

Comedy Central has surprisingly little history in the comedy categories.

Ratings are relatively low, with only half a million viewers per week. 

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