Every once in a while, a show appears that takes me completely by surprise. Three years ago, that happened with Comedy Central’s “Review.” It’s a show took a simple premise and ran with it, putting its main character through horrible ordeals for the sake of the show, and our laughter. The show came to an end this week, with the final episode of a shortened third season that exists purely to give its story a proper ending. The series finale succeeds in that goal. “Review” ’s finale is the perfect ending for one of the darkest and best comedies on television.
“Review” follows Forrest McNeill (Andy Daly, “Reno 911,” who also created and wrote episodes of the show), a self-proclaimed “life reviewer” who hosts a fictional television show. Over the course of the show’s run, he reviews experiences like eating 30 pancakes in one sitting, road rage and divorce. By the beginning of the third season, Forrest and his producer Grant (the chilling James Urbaniak, “Marvel’s Agent Carter”) have miraculously survived their fall off a cliff in the season two finale, and now Forrest is on the show that ruined his life multiple times.
There’s always been a certain poetry to the Forrest’s travails, and “Review” wraps up its run with a fitting ending in which the fictional show is cancelled immediately after Forrest chooses it over his ex-wife and son. The show has always been a comedy that relies on leaving the viewer cringing as much as they’re laughing. Over the course of the run, he divorces his wife for the purposes of reviewing the experience; he burns his father’s house down when he tries to live the life of a little person and can’t reach the fire extinguisher; he gets accused of murder; and when he’s standing trial for the crime, he can’t speak for himself because he’s reviewing living life as Helen Keller. Each of these scenes relies on your ability to laugh while just feeling awful for the character. Forrest’s rejection of his ex-wife’s request to end the show was painful enough, but to have the cancellation of the show come immediately after is “Review” at its painful finest.
“Review” embraces these stories with a certain darkness. Not many comedies are willing to put their main character through the ringer as much as this one, let alone have it be of his own free will and delusion. In the series finale alone, he accepts being cryogenically frozen to death, gets struck by lightning and gets left completely alone after his show is cancelled. All of that is exceptionally heavy and dark material for a comedy, but the show handles it with a certain deftness that makes it compelling.
One of the elements that makes “Review” so great is the central relationship between Forrest and his wife Suzanne (Jessica St. Clair, “Playing House”). From the moment he divorces her in the first season, “Review” makes clear the impact the fictional show has on their lives. Forrest continues to insert himself in her and his son’s lives. She’s another character whose life was horribly impacted by Forrest and his actions, but her caring for him in spite of it all helped ground the show in some semblance of reality.
So much of this show relies on the great work from Daly as Forrest. Daly fully commits to showing us the horrors of what Forrest puts himself through. That commitment helps make Forrest’s willingness to ruin his life for the show seem in character; he makes Forrest’s self-inflicted pain palpable. It’s a thoroughly compelling lead performance that anchors the insanity of the show.
There will never be another TV show like “Review.” No comedy over the past few years has been as sharp, as funny, as uncomfortable, as cringeworthy and as rewarding as this show. It was never a ratings hit, but if you were to say “Review” is one of the best comedies ever made, I would have a hard time arguing with you. It had a very short run, but I’ll be shocked to find a show that’s half as rewarding as this one.