One of the great tragedies of our current Peak TV landscape is that Comedy Central’s Review didn’t go six seasons and a movie, or whatever the ideal number of episodes would have been. A thousand? It’s one of the great comedies of the decade, and while the recent finale stuck the landing so hard, I wanted years and years of Review. Instead, it went for 22 episodes over three seasons (two and a bit, to be honest). At least the short run resulted in a series that’s basically perfect.
If you missed it, Review starred Andy Daly (one of the funniest people alive), as Forrest MacNeil, a “life reviewer”. He doesn’t review the traditional things like movies, food, or music – he reviews “being a racist” or “eating fifteen pancakes” or “being Batman”. Whatever the viewers suggest, he goes out and does, and he does it unquestioningly, even when those suggestions are dangerous or horrifying. (Which they usually are.)
The perfect example of the formula is the third episode of the series – “Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes”. I’d put that one on my list of favorite episodes ever. First, Forrest is called upon to eat fifteen pancakes and he doesn’t even particularly like pancakes. (“I’ve only eaten two pancakes and already feel like I’ve greatly overindulged.”) He eats until he gets sick, all in the name of the review. Then a viewer asks about divorce, and a heartbroken Forrest has to end his marriage. It’s absurd, but Daly and spunkyfave Jessica St. Clair as Suzanne find such real emotions and turn into a grueling scene. She’s hurt and betrayed and can’t possibly understand what happened and Forrest genuinely doesn’t want a divorce but his job requires it. And then, a shattered Forrest gets his last review of the episode – eating thirty pancakes. It’s a heroic journey of a man who’s lost everything and perseveres for reasons he can’t even understand and there’s such a sense of triumph in Forrest accomplishing the dumbest thing. It’s a perfect episode of television and it’s one I tell people about maybe too often.
There have been so many brilliant moments over the series. “There all is aching” is one of the greatest things ever. The arc where Forrest killed somebody as part of a review(!) and went to jail is the darkest and funniest material you’ll ever want to see. And after a series of dangerous and illegal reviews in Season Two, Forrest determined that his producer Grant (James Urbaniak) was trying to destroy him and they finally went over a bridge together in a bonkers cliffhanger that was also the end of Hannibal (which aired very close to that episode). And that brings us to the short (three-episode) Season Three where Forrest and Grant returned. Grant’s paralyzed from the waist down but Forrest seemed fine. Except for the way he no longer showed even the slightest hesitation at even the most morally dubious review suggestions.
We’ve already covered the first two episodes of the season on this site, so that leaves us with the finale. The episode Comedy Central spent weeks promoting with the tagline “He Might Die!”, which seems like how the show within the show probably promoted every episode. His first review was cryogenic freezing, which was fine until Forrest learned that the technology doesn’t exist to unfreeze somebody. And even though he didn’t want to be frozen for “a thousand years” and he has veto power over review suggestions, he still went ahead with it. He wrote his ex-wife and son letters telling them that he loved them and then went in for the treatment. Only this was one of those places that does cryogenic skin treatments and expose you to cold for forty-five minutes or so. But he thought a thousand years had passed and was confused and baffled at the new world awaiting him. It’s a testament to the general cluelessness of Forrest that he didn’t realize how things actually are until he thought he was in the future. He was stymied by the fashions and technology that were exactly the same as they were an hour ago.
Once he worked things out, he ran to get those letters back, but it was too late. Suzanne had read it and seemed genuinely touched by the emotions that Forrest is still able to access. There was this idea that he might be salvageable and then he went right from there to review “getting struck by lightning” and risked his life again.
The final act is what I’m going to remember forever – the randomly selected review request was from Suzanne, who asked him to review “never reviewing anything again for the rest of your life”, and she made it clear that if he didn’t take this review, he’d never see his family again. (Kudos to Jessica St. Clair, by the way. She’s hilarious but she puts that all aside for this show. She plays it real and keeps the show emotionally grounded no matter how silly it gets. It’s crazy that somebody would cast St. Clair for a role that can’t be funny, but she’s so good.) And that should be it. Forrest’s joy and relief is palpable Co-host A.J. Gibbs (Megan Stevenson, a consistent scene stealer) is so happy for him. Forrest’s torment is over and he doesn’t even have to violate the rules of the show that mean nothing to anybody except him.
But then he decides he has to do Grant the courtesy of officially resigning. And the first time through, I thought this was Grant’s revenge (you know, for the paralysis) but on reflection, I think Grant is just a son of a bitch and would do the same thing whether or not he could walk. (Back in Season Two he “officially” warned Forrest against murder even though it would make for compelling TV *wink wink*.) Grant convinced Forrest that families are great but man, it’s a shame for the world to lose his reviews. Who knows what he could accomplish if he stayed in his post? And so Forrest, who has only a semblance of free will by this point, vetoed the review (and his family). Brutal. A.J. couldn’t even bring herself to cue up the next request. Which turned out to be a guy asking what it’s like to get pranked.
And look. We all thought Forrest was going to die for his last review. But instead, as he was working out a way to insure he’d be pranked, Grant let him know the show was cancelled. Forrest assumed that was the prank and went about his job. And in his mind, everybody was in on it, so he couldn’t accept heartfelt goodbyes or words of concern for his well-being. It was all a prank! And when Suzanne left town without a word, leaving an empty house behind, she was in on it. And he thought it was hilarious. So he completed his final review without a co-host or crew or cameras, and that’s maybe the most fitting ending for Forrest. Eventually he’s going to realize that he gave up everything for a cancelled show, but the last time we see him, he’s as genially oblivious as ever. We’re not going to see the realization (which probably wouldn’t be funny) and we don’t have to watch him die for his cause. There’s still tragedy, but it’s the funniest kind.
It’s a nice flip side to the Comedy Bang! Bang! finale, actually. That show ended with Scott Aukerman losing his cameras but deciding to keep doing the show even though they couldn’t film it and nobody would see those episodes. (Their Twitter occasionally announces new unfilmed and unaired episodes, which is a good commitment to the bit.) There, it was almost joyous because everybody was in on it – Scott and company had fun making the show so they’d keep doing it even when it wasn’t a show anymore. But Forrest’s take on the same idea is very funny but deeply sad. And given how often Andy Daly appeared on CBB, it’s nicely appropriate to see that tweak.
It’s always hard to judge a finale right away because there’s so much emotion and resolution and just a cocktail of stuff. I think it as a brilliant ending to a brilliant show, perfectly encapsulating the basic themes of the show and closing things out so appropriately. It’s such a nice bow for Review and as much as I like my dark humor, it makes me happy that Forrest survived his job. It’s a show I know I’ll rewatch again and again, and hopefully it gets some traction once it’s streaming somewhere better than Comedy Central’s app. Daly is endlessly creative and I’m looking forward to see what he and his collaborators are going to do next. But for now, we have a complete series that feels very much like a consistent vision. Funny and upsetting and weird, it’s an amazing show and in its time, it was one of the best things on TV. I give Review…. five stars.