Cringe comedy doesn’t usually work for me; I need a trigger warning for scenes of other people being uncomfortable, even fictional people, but there are a few exceptions, and Comedy Central’s “Review” is a big one. It works because of its ingenious paradox: it’s about the very bad things done by a very nice person.
The premise of the series is that Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly) hosts a TV series in which he reviews life experiences as suggested to him by his viewing audience. But those suggestions aren’t always simple. For every viewer who wants to know what it’s like to eat pancakes, there are others who ask him to experience divorce, road rage and being a racist. And he does it all, throwing his personal life into chaos.
So why doesn’t he turn down such horrible assignments? That’s the beauty of the show: his fatal flaw is actually his integrity. He doesn’t back out, he doesn’t go halfway and he doesn’t cheat. In order to provide his invaluable reviewing insight to the world, he will do whatever is asked of him, even when any rational person would say no.
The show aired its excellent first season in spring 2014. It returned in summer 2015 for its second season, which was even better. Daly is the co-creator and executive producer in addition to being the star of the show, and he deserves to win the Emmy for Best Comedy Actor.
So what makes his performance such a tour de force? I think it’s the constant tension at the heart of it: pitting Forrest’s desire to do a good job against his dread at burning down his own house — sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally — in the process. He improbably makes us like Forrest in spite of it all because he’s not a cynic — just the opposite, he’s eager and hopeful despite all evidence to the contrary.
He’s also a kind of complicit victim, and we root for him to escape his show, his ambiguously sinister producer (James Urbaniak) and his own misplaced commitment. And Daly plays it completely straight; his anguish feels just as real as his absurd optimism, and the comedy comes from the increasing outrageousness of the hole he digs for himself — also sometimes literal, as when he reviewed being buried alive.
Season two upped the degree of comic difficulty by greatly raising the stakes. This time around Forrest had to lead a cult, catfish his ex-wife, blackmail a new girlfriend and commit murder, among other atrocities. Each episode is divided into multiple assignments, but they don’t exist in a vacuum. They snowball throughout the season, landing him in the hospital, and even in jail. Finally he’s pushed to his breaking point where he comes to believe in a conspiracy to kill him and flees the show.
There’s a high-wire audacity to the show as a whole and Daly’s performance in particular. It builds and builds, reaching ever higher levels of insanity, getting darker than you’d ever expect, but somehow it manages to get funnier and funnier as it goes along simply by playing out the consequences of such preposterous decision-making.
“Review” has been renewed for a shortened third and final season. I’m sad to see it go, but also happy that it has a clear end point. Like Forrest himself, there’s probably only so far you can push this premise before it breaks. In the meantime the second season is eligible for Emmys this year. An Emmy nomination is a life experience Daly hasn’t had a chance to review yet. I can’t speak for him, but I’d give the TV academy five stars for that.
Will Daly be nominated for an Emmy? Make your early Emmy predictions starting with Best Comedy Actor using the menu to the right or below.
Photo credit: Comedy Central