In an era of peak television that’s expanded storytelling horizons beyond the formulaic, flooding the medium with characters that aren’t traditionally likable, Andy Daly’s Review stands out. There are plenty of flawed male protagonists on the small screen, after all, to the point that it’s gotten boring to watch them all behaving badly on their various cable shows. But Forrest MacNeil, the star of Review, does more than behave badly—he’s a monster. And though the Comedy Central series has had fun hinting at his deeper issues throughout its run, it seems ready to render its final judgment of him in its third and final season, which begins Thursday.
Review With Forrest MacNeil, the reality-show-within-a-show that drives this demented piece of extreme cringe comedy, sees Forrest (played by Daly) taking on various life experiences as suggested by the viewing public, and offering his opinion on them. Among the more whimsical activities (eating too many pancakes or obeying everything a Magic 8 Ball told him to do), Forrest has also divorced his wife, taken various drugs, spent months lost at sea, and killed a man, all in the maniacal pursuit of giving his “reviews” the authentic grist he believes they need. And though he leaves a trail of destruction in his wake, Forrest has otherwise remained an affable, boring, middle-American chump—a perfect villain, hiding in plain sight.
Review has always had a sense of Forrest’s sinister side, wringing big laughs (and surprisingly gripping drama) from the extreme lengths the host will go to for his job. But it’s also struggled to hold him fully accountable, since part of its core premise is that Forrest has his own TV show and can’t really change his ways until he’s rid of it. That’s why this last season—made with the knowledge that it’d be Forrest’s big finale—feels a little more electrifying. There’s a comeuppance on the way, and the dramatic tension comes from whether or not Forrest realizes he deserves it.
That viewers should care at all what Forrest thinks is a credit to Daly and his co-creators Jeffrey Blitz and Charlie Siskel, who have crafted a comedy character for the ages. He has the ego of The Office’s Michael Scott, and just as little actual intelligence, but he also lacks the necessary empathy that made Michael a viable character for many years on a network sitcom. Forrest is more of a strange sideshow that you can’t quite take your eyes off—a man driven by such inexplicable passion, and prone to impressively cruel feats of misanthropy, all in the name of science. There’s no way the character could have lasted for hundreds of episodes, but that Daly and company got more than 20 out of Comedy Central for such a dark series is quite an achievement.
Forrest never quite understands that he’s doing anything wrong, even as his ex-wife screams in his face about how he ruined her life, or his co-workers sigh and wince at his exacting demands. But as Review has gone on, it has taken great care to make sure everything Forrest breaks stays broken. When season three opens, his producer Grant (James Urbaniak) is in a wheelchair, paralyzed after Forrest believed he was at the heart of an imaginary conspiracy and attacked him (all in the name of a review). Forrest is himself on trial for murder, after shooting a man dead last year at a viewer’s behest.
Whatever fictional network airs this program obviously wants Forrest to change his ways, this time offering him unlimited vetoes on any audience suggestions (which are chosen at random by a computer). But Forrest immediately proclaims that he’ll ignore those vetoes, as they’re not in the spirit of his grand experiment. In Thursday’s premiere, one of the segments sees him swap places with his on-screen assistant A.J. Gibbs (Megan Stevenson), a constant voice of reason that he usually ignores.
It’s tantalizing to see Review then progress as a much more normal show about toying with fun life experiences. A.J. lacks Forrest’s insane drive, and thus refuses to put her health or the happiness of her family on the line in the name of a TV segment. Daly wants the viewer to know that the psychosis of Review is not in the show but in its particular host—that viewers have been complicit in one man’s descent into madness, not some reality TV program going awry. As with every season of Review, things quickly escalate, but this time there’s the sense that it’s heading in directions well beyond the point of no return.
Review has never been a show with broad appeal, but it’s not just a simple exercise in cringe humor, either. Daly’s tightly wound performance is so pitch-perfect, and the world around him so meticulously crafted, that the show works almost as well as a drama as it does as a comedy. Its final episodes are particularly loaded with gripping twists and turns. Forrest may be a truly horrible human being, but in his three years on television, he’s been one of the most fascinating characters to watch. It’ll be good to see him get a proper sendoff, just rewards and all.
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