Comedy Central’s “Review with Forrest MacNeil” ended its second season last Thursday.
Adapted from the Australian show and starring Andy Daly (who also writes and co-creates), the show adopts the famed mockumentary approach as seen in NBC’s “The Office,” in illustrating a review show whose subject is neither books nor movies, but what’s really important: actual life experiences.
The show-within-a-show, “Review,” is a benevolent force. In each segment, MacNeil takes on a new life experience as determined by randomized viewer request.
These requests can be as innocent as “spend an afternoon on a rowboat,” as disgusting as “use a glory hole,” as nonsensical as “there all is aching,” (sic) or as cruel as “get divorced.”
Through his hubris and naivete, MacNeil ensures that every request will end in tears.
However, “Review” takes things further than its deceptive bare-bones set-up.
Early on, MacNeil is forced into divorcing his wife, providing one of the series’ most excruciating confrontations. Then, his wife decides that she isn’t happy and maybe a divorce is the healthiest option for them; after all, MacNeil is always so wrapped up in his work.
A few episodes later, a request sends MacNeil through an elaborate series of events that lands him in a custody hearing dressed as Batman and covered in urine.
“It’s not my urine, it’s from a hobo,” he assures everyone. Good to know.
MacNeil’s failed marriage and subsequent seething despair is one of the show’s biggest highlights.
We see him stabbed, shot, divorced, buried alive, urinated upon and committed to a psych ward, but like a sitcom hitting the “reset” button, he is back onstage and ready for more. And boy, do things get grim.
There is no end to MacNeil’s bad luck, and it is only after he is forced to perform an episode from prison that he notices.
In the season finale, MacNeil embroils himself in a conspiracy plot with his vulturous producer in the middle, whom he suspects is rigging the so-called “randomized” review selection process in order to kill him.
He scraps together a bulletin board of newspaper clippings and crude drawings. His wife urges him to seek help, as she does in nearly every episode. If only he’d listen.
MacNeil storms up to his producer’s house in the middle of the night, who only smirks at the camera. “This will be good,” he says.
He points out that the only reason his requests are so frequently dangerous is because viewers would rather see him get hurt, because they can find out the easy stuff for themselves. This fact, however obvious, seems to trigger a short circuit in MacNeil’s brain.
Up there with Gervais’ David Brent, MacNeil is as dense a comic creation as you will find on television.
Daly here sinks into character, imbuing his bumbling host with hunched gait and awkward showmanship — and as his life unravels, brewing contempt and sadness. The obvious question is: Why doesn’t he take the easy way out and quit?
He states in voiceover and directly to the camera, over and over again, that he needs to finish what he starts, but in his moments of desperation (like when he gets lost at sea), he comes off more terrified of failure than losing control over his safety.
While the show-within-a-show strips MacNeil of control, he is still its driving force. It is not just him who suffers for his art, it is everyone else in his life — especially his family.
This controlled chaos only puts MacNeil’s life in a sort of self-torturing homeostasis wherein he strips himself of any accountability for his actions. MacNeil is selfish and deeply troubled, but he is also human. This is a very, very funny show.