This reviewer of life deserves everyone’s highest rating possible…
Welcome to Hank’s Corner! This is the new, weekly spot where Henry Gilbert will do what he does so well on Cape Crisis‘s marquee segment. He’ll spotlight a cool new book, Blu-ray, TV series, candy bar, or whatever else he’s enjoying lately, and tell you all about why you should care just as much as he does! And this week’s entry…
Breaking Bad became a pop culture phenomenon for following the journey of one good man transforming into as dark a soul as there is. It stars a father who makes choice after choice that pushes away the family he loves so dear, pulling him further into a world of death and chaos. And the viewer can only watch helplessly as the protagonist is pulled further into the abyss he regrets gazing into.
Now, what if I told you that’s virtually the same premise as the best comedy on television? If you’re surprised, that’s because you’re not watching Review on Comedy Central.
Starring and produced by the incomparable Andy Daly, Review has entered its second season of unpredictable and twisted challenges for “life reviewer” Forrest MacNeil. Based on the two season long Australian mockumentary of the same name, Review sees Forrest take on user-submitted appraisals of life experiences, and these challenges lead him into increasingly horrifying places. Take, for example, when he’s asked to try addiction:
This early test not only shows how Forrest willingly hurts those around him in the name of his career, but also gives you the first look at how good he is at denial. It also illustrates Forrest’s willingness to try anything in the name of his art, which demands Daly show a huge amount of comedic range. In just this six minute chunk, MacNeil fluctuates from a bland father figure to a screaming wildman and then back to a sober journalist at a moment’s notice, all believable for the character.
You can see those same qualities, along with some others, in Forrest’s more recent review of joining the Mile High Club…
Forrest’s disconnect from reality can be both pitiable and disturbing, but it’s always funny to see his plans fall apart before his eyes. And just like on Breaking Bad, it’s just as exciting to see him adapt to the shifting goals of a given objective, doing his damnedest to make it somehow all work in the end. He does it for his viewers, or at least that’s what MacNeil says. Much like his ex-wife Suzanne, it’s hard for me to tell exactly what drives Forrest to do the things he does.
It’s that interest in the ever-devolving life of Forrest MacNeil that really draws me into Review and leads me to repeat viewings. There are so many outstanding comedies on TV right now, including Rick and Morty and Comedy Bang! Bang! – unsurprisingly, Andy Daly has been a guest star on both. Yet, there’s something about the continuity of watching Forrest’s life fall apart that really makes this show the most compelling.
It’d be perfectly acceptable for Review to merely work as an episodic collection of skits that allow for easy consumption and sharing in five minute chunks. Instead, the series commits to a subtle-yet-deep continuity from the first episode onward. The spiraling mess that is Forrest’s existence is the background noise to every segment, making each subject funny on its own, but also part of the tapestry of the hilarious sadness that MacNeil experiences when the cameras are off.
Key & Peele or Saturday Night Live could introduce a premise where a very confused straight man has to try and convince a gay person to be straight, and they’d probably do a good job of it. When Review approaches the same scenario, it’s not merely a funny situation. The moment is enriched by Forrest’s deep denial about his divorce, which in turn is being abused by his manipulative producer. Those heavily established character traits make a good scene great, and great scenes incredible.
It’s also interesting that this dedication to continuity and character development can be coupled with such skilled improvisers. Executive produced by Daly himself, Forrest’s unpredictable scenarios give the actor ample room to flex the improv skills comedy nerds will recognize from his work on Comedy Bang! Bang! and Eastbound & Down – though you may also know him from *ahem* Yogi Bear and MadTV. Prior to Review, Andy Daly’s skills as a comedic actor have been underappreciated by the world at large, perhaps because his wholesome looks and cadence usually place him in the role of straight man. That niche may have limited him in the past, but Review makes astoundingly good use of it, as we see the square corrupted again and again, all in the name of “understanding life” or some such.
It also helps that Andy has surrounded himself with a number of talented actors and improvisers who work well with his wild energy. I’m not just talking about regulars like James Urbaniak and Megan Stevenson, who are fantastic as (respectively) pushy producer Grant and cohost A.J. Gibbs. The nature of the show makes room for tons of guests, including some of Daly’s best improv partners, like Jessica St. Clair, Rich Fulcher, Lennon Parham, and the exceptionally angry Jason Mantzoukas, seen below.
It’s not just refreshing to see a show full of underused performers getting the space to do what they do best. It’s also rewarding to see that Daly and his crew are invested in more than just a quick laugh. Review is building a whole world for MacNeil to tear apart, and his destruction leaves lasting damage, even if he’s too arrogant, dense, or willfully blind to notice. The show can go to some real dark places, and they find a way to make you laugh all along the way.
I mean, how many other shows would have a man beg his father to shoot at arrow at him, because otherwise Forrest will have to shoot at his own son? It’s ridiculous, full of pathos, hilarious, and grimly earnest all at the same time, and it’s all plausible within the rules Daly and co. so painstakingly built.
Were I using the same scale as Forrest, I’d give this the same five stars he saves for only the greatest of life experiences. As it stands, I’ll just say that this is the most consistently, and increasingly, funny shows on TV, and you’re doing yourself a disservice by not catching up with the first season immediately. It’s on both Hulu and the Comedy Central app if you’ve got access to either of those, and new episodes air each Thursday night on Comedy Central. C’mon, don’t jump on the bandwagon when the rest of the internet hears about it in another six months. Be cool now.