I’m not sure we’re ever going to see a show like Review with Forrest MacNeil ever again.
That’s a big statement, there’s a lot of television history to come, and the show itself was a remake of an Australian show. I don’t know for sure that we’ll never find another creation like this.
But there’s a specific alchemy that made Review with Forrest MacNeil something truly special, a confluence of talents and ideas that feels like something you could never recreate, one that would be almost incapable of getting the appreciation it deserved in its own time.
Simple enough, the show is about Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly), a television reviewer of life. Each week, along with co-host A.J. Gibbs (Megan Stevenson) and producer Grant (James Urbaniak), Forrest would take viewer requests to review various experiences. Experiences we’re all curious about like Stealing, Drug Addiction, or Racism.
Then came the third episode “Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes.” Forrest was asked to review eating 15 pancakes, asked to review divorcing his wife, and then asked to review 30 pancakes. Besides being likely one of the funniest episodes of television ever written-
“These pancakes couldn’t kill me. I was already dead.”
-it signaled a surprisingly brilliant focus shift for Review. This was the beginning of a dark downward spiral, Review turning into something like Comedy Central’s Breaking Bad. A man pursuing a goal, ostensibly for betterment but really for his own pleasure, at the cost of his friends, his family, and his own well-being.
This shift becomes license for the show to push Forrest MacNeil further and further down the rabbit hole, reviewing Leading a Cult (which leads to a shootout with the authorities by the person who takes over his cult), Having the Perfect Body (which leads to this),
and Killing a Person (which results in him personally killing a person). No assignment goes uncompleted to the fullest and furthest of Forrest’s understanding.
And that’s where Review gets tricky/interesting. It’s an ostensibly objective perspective, a documentary about this man’s insane journey. But as criticism, it’s based entirely in the subjective perspective of its critic, what Forrest is willing and sees as his mission. Forrest believes that everything must subordinate to the “service he does.”
The show may ask that Forrest feels what it’s like to be a little person. It doesn’t ask that he continues walking on his knees as his father’s house burns down and he can’t reach the fire extinguisher. It asks that he blackmails someone. It doesn’t ask that he blackmail the woman he loves and force her away.
This is the darkness of Review, that everything the show asks is completely brought on by Forrest himself. A comedy show about a man that destroys his own life because he chooses to.
And yeah, it’s still a comedy. Review is funnier than a show this dark and sad has any right to be. Much of that is thanks to Andy Daly, our man at the center of it all. A masterfully gifted improviser and physical comedian, Daly’s willingness to throw himself whole into basically anything the show asks of him, and the little nuances he finds inside the Forrest character is consistently surprising.
Just take a look at this scene from “Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes.”
Then remember the man gets divorced after this and watch the second clip here.
The difference in the way he starts out, the body language, the steely resolve of the latter vs. the reluctance of the former. The delivery of the narration, everything here is just suffused with comedy beats.
Plus, this shit is just funny. The man pushes himself to the limit for something so ridiculous, how are you not dying watching that? Daly brings such specificity and energy to the character and the escalation is just flawless. Let’s take a few more looks.
It’s such a perfect blend of sincerity and naivete and sheer gonzo insanity.
And lest I make it all sound like Daly, he’s also supported by an amazing cast. Megan Stevenson as his co-host brings a bubbly straight-man to the insanity and a look at what Forrest could have been. His ex-wife Suzanne is played by Jessica St. Clair who may have the best exasperated voice in the business. And James Urbaniak is the closest thing this show has to a villain as the manipulative Grant, who pushes Forrest further and further into his madness for reasons somewhat unknown.
So goodbye Review. You will be missed. Gone, but I have a feeling, not forgotten.