Comedy Central’s Review finds the sweet spot between hilarity and sociopathic tendencies
Everyone has a price, but everyone has a limit, too. To keep out of complete financial dissolution, you gotta at least play the game a little; you get a job, put in some work, make a little cash. Once you’ve gotten that job, though, you try to hold onto your dignity. The very definition of “work” is “doing crap you don’t really want to do,” and everyone eventually reaches a juncture at which circumstances leave them with no other choice but to draw a line in the sand. No matter how plum the perquisites, how obscene the salary, everyone’s job possesses a point at which it is no longer worth the trouble.
Except for Forrest MacNeil’s, that is. Though Forrest doesn’t really think of his job as such; to him, it’s more of a sacred calling, a holy duty that he and he alone must see through to completion for the good of all mankind. And the work he’s doing is not insignificant, either. Forrest’s purpose on this green planet is to document and appraise the manifold experiences that make up nothing less than life itself, and in doing so, make sense of the whole of existence. As Forrest so elegantly puts it: “Life — it’s literally all we have. But is it any good?”
This is how Forrest begins each episode of the show-within-a-show on which he works, Review With Forrest MacNeil. His lovely and level-headed assistant A.J. Gibbs cues up a submission from a viewer, who requests that Forrest review an experience and assign it a rating out of five stars. It can be as trivial as eating a hefty stack of pancakes or (and things tends to go this way more often than not) as gravely serious as the life-changing processes of divorce, cocaine addiction, and group sex. But he commits to this job, and he commits hard. In his devotion to this calling, Forrest blazes past reason and rationality and into single-minded mania.
Andy Daly’s comic creation is the most fascinating, damaged sitcom leading man since Michael Scott, and Review’s recently launched second season has doubled down on the funny-ha-ha brand of sociopathy that’s made this odd exercise in absurdity into a compelling human drama.
Forrest’s a consummate professional. When he takes on an assignment, he goes the extra yard to ensure that the subject at hand has been experienced to the fullest and most realistic extent possible. This is the source of no small amount of kookiness on Review; when requested to live life as a little person, he outfits his office with a whimsically oversized chair, tree-trunk pencil, and and gigantic binder. That’s as playful as Review allows itself to get, though. It’s not so much “amusing” as much as it is “agonizingly painful” later that same episode, when Forrest’s allegiance to the task at hand leads to him allowing his father’s house to burn down.
His staunch refusal to ever back down from an assignment effectively destroys Forrest’s life. On most serialized half-hour comedies, everything’s reset after the episode is over. A character breaks an arm, it’ll be fixed up by next week. The same physics, however, do not govern the world of Forrest MacNeil. When his life becomes shitty, it stays shitty. His post as a life reviewer costs him his marriage and multiple girlfriends, incalculable sums of money, and the trust of everyone he knows. It causes him grievous harm — shootings, stabbings, poisonings, take your pick. It nearly lands him in prison on more than one occasion. His monomaniacal commitment to this calling even drives him to scream the N-word in the face of his only black friend. (Being a racist: half a star.)
It doesn’t take too many episodes until Forrest’s questionable mental stability becomes glaringly apparent to the audience.
The ridiculous intensity that Forrest brings to the job betrays what his cheerful demeanor belies. He’s a man with a dangerously loose grasp on what constitutes normal and acceptable human behavior. There’s a complex interplay of emotions taking place during his review process; Forrest outwardly displays anguish over these undertakings he feels he absolutely must see to completion.# He sheds real, salty tears when he forces himself to blackmail his tenderhearted girlfriend in the season two opener, and yet he still can’t bring himself to tell her that he’s only blackmailing her for work.
Forrest’s a lonely guy without the necessary faculties to get his life together. His only friends in the world are his producer (James Urbaniak) and his intern (Michael Croner), and chances are high that they’d think of him more as a work acquaintance if asked. Some misplaced sense of duty has instilled in him a self-destructive streak several miles wide, and there appears to be no force on Earth powerful enough to stop Forrest on his path of destruction and exquisite awkwardness.
Beneath the rigid structure governing the show’s review segments beats a punctured heart, hemorrhaging quickly but never in danger of completely dying out. Just as Nabokov’s Pale Fire concealed a multifaceted character study in the minutiae of longform poetry criticism, Review gets at what it means to be stubbornly, indignantly, perilously human while assigning standardized ratings to stuff like being Batman (four stars, by the way). The audience only ever sees Forrest through the portal of his own show, the assignments he undertakes providing the only windows into his life. It makes sense, too; there’s nothing left outside of Review With Forrest MacNeil for Forrest MacNeil, either.
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