review series finale

Has there ever been a show that so profoundly plumbed the depths of human delusion and misery like Review? Even before heading into its third and final season, the show (starring Andy Daly as Forrest MacNeil and airing on Comedy Central) had already distinguished itself as a dark comedy of unmatched proportions, if not an outright tragedy — the fact that the predominant theory as to what was going on was that Forrest was in Purgatory had to be debunked by Daly himself says as much.

The premise of Review, as stated by Forrest in the show’s opening credits, is this: “Life: it’s literally all we have. But is it any good? I’m a reviewer, but I don’t review food, books, or movies. I review life itself.” Initially, the reviews seemed fairly self-contained. They weren’t good decisions (the first two episodes were “Stealing; Addiction; Prom” and “Sex Tape; Racist; Hunting”), but they generally fit into the traditional mold of similar mockumentary-style comedies, i.e. the end of each episode meant a blank slate, and the next episode would see the host as spry and damage-free as ever. But then, “Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes” happened, and the veil was lifted.

There were clues in the first two episodes, yes (just look at the expressions on his neighbors’ faces as they’re called to intervene, first due to Forrest’s cocaine addiction and then because of his process of reviewing racism), but Review’s third episode made its central drive — and problem — clear: Forrest truly believes that the show “could be [his] penicillin.” And so, over the course of thirty minutes, Forrest eats fifteen pancakes, divorces his wife Suzanne (Jessica St. Clair), and then eats thirty pancakes. Returning to the episode now that the show is over is heartbreaking; it’s Review in microcosm, with absurdity framing just how irreparably Forrest is ruining his own life and the lives of those he loves, not to mention the fact that he himself can see how silly the reviews can be, and how easily his ego lets him be pushed back into doing them.

The show surprised at every turn, with obviously unwise decisions snowballing into the kinds of scenarios that would make the show unbearable for those with no tolerance for secondhand embarrassment, and even the most innocuous and well-intentioned reviews spiraling wildly out of hand. Forrest began Review with a relatively normal life and a whole family, but as the show progressed, he lost his wife and son (“You are gonna die alone. I loved you more than anyone would love you”) and his father (“Through it all, I told myself, ‘Forrest is a good boy, and he always has been.’ But now a man is dead and you’re charged with killing him. What are your values, son?”), not to mention being responsible for multiple deaths (that of his father-in-law being the most notably macabre, as it occurred in space and resulted in being stuck in a shuttle with his corpse as it floated around in zero gravity). Going into the final season — with the ads all saying “he might die” — there seemed to be three doors to choose from: 1) Forrest might somehow find redemption and happiness. 2) He might die. 3) He might experience something even worse. With a title like “Cryogenics; Lightning; Last Review,” it seemed like anything was possible.

How foolish we were to think Review would go for anything other than door number three. What’s most remarkable is that Review still dances with the other two doors before going for it.

It’s Forrest’s (perceived) near-death experience that jars him into realizing that there’s nothing that this show could offer that would be worth truly losing his life and family. He’s even offered an out, as his ex-wife asks him to review never reviewing anything again. It’s an offer at redemption that stresses just how much the people in his life truly love him, as well as how much of a miracle it is that they’re willing to take him back despite how much he’s put them through — he’s catfished his own wife, burned down his father’s house twice, etc. He’s obviously relieved — as is his co-host A.J. (Megan Stevenson), who is the only person directly involved with the show who seems to be able to see clearly — but there’s still something wrong. Ultimately, that thing isn’t Grant (his producer and enabler, as played by James Urbaniak), nor the structure of the show (now designed to give Forrest countless ways out): it’s Forrest himself. Needless to say, he refuses Suzanne’s request.

The show is harrowing because it refuses to break structure just as much as Forrest refuses to quit reviewing. Even when season two ended with Forrest and Grant tumbling off of a bridge to uncertain fates after an episode-long manhunt, or “Co-Host” putting A.J. in Forrest’s spot (and demonstrating just how easy and harmless the job could be), the show ultimately reverts back to the studio and the chipper in-show music. Even as it deconstructs itself by offering brief glimpses into just how abnormal Forrest’s behavior is and how much of it we’ve simply come to accept, it remains stolid in being what it is. And just so, the show ends on a note that feels less like a finale and more like a jump from a diving board with no discernible way of telling how far it is to the water. Forrest stands in an empty studio, believing that the show’s cancellation is a part of reviewing being pranked. How long he’ll stay there, we don’t know, but the show ends as every episode does, with Forrest offering up a rating (five stars, this time) and telling us he’ll see us next week.

Of the antiheroes and tragicomedies that have proliferated on TV in recent years, Review is singular. Forrest’s isn’t a tragedy of circumstance; it’s one of his own (and entirely preventable) making, and we can’t really root for him anymore, not with all the blood and destruction he’s left in his wake. Through everything, he appears completely milquetoast. He’s miles and away worse than his contemporaries, including Walter White and Don Draper. He loses everyone — including us, his audience — by the end of the show, as he passes by the door that would have gotten him a happy ending. The most painful part of it all is that he doesn’t bulldoze past it. He hesitates. Are we the delusional ones for having hope, despite knowing that he’d never go through it?

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About the Author

Karen Han is a writer based in New York, via the midwest. She writes about film, TV, and Tintin, among other things.