There's no gap between Comedy Central's new series "Review" and the show-within-a-show on which it's focused, "Review with Forrest MacNeil." Everything that Forrest MacNeil, played by Andy Daly ("Eastbound & Down," "Delocated"), is shown doing is part of the fictional series he's hosting, one in which he reviews life experiences at the request of his viewers. "Life... it's literally all we have. But is it any good?" he thunders in the introduction, before taking on and then rating things like "stealing," "prom" and "eating 15 pancakes" on a five-star scale.
That the show-within-a-show is all we see is part of the stealthy genius of "Review," which aired its third, funniest and darkest episode last night. "Review" takes place in sketch-like shorter chunks, but Forrest doesn't go unscathed by his experiences. A request that he review "addiction" in the first episode leads him to reluctantly dabble in cocaine use ("Some people simply can't get addicted -- their brains are too sturdy," he observes) and then take it up with zeal, and his taste for the drug extended later into the episode, even after he'd been shipped off to rehab and given the experience half a star.
The talent for pickpocketing Forrest discovered while exploring theft similarly carried over. The show has been building up a larger world populated by Forrest's wife Suzanne (Jessica St. Clair), his young son, his cohost A.J. Gibbs (Megan Stevenson), his intern Josh (H. Michael Croner), his producer Grant (James Urbaniak) -- all seen only through Forrest's attempts to fulfill his show's mission.
Last night's episode, "Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes," stepped up the game for "Review" considerably thanks to the middle request. Forrest had been shown to have an idyllic, happy marriage up to this point, but thanks to his dedication to the show and the goading of Grant ("'Even if I beg for help, don't let me out,' right? Who said that?"), he destroyed his relationship with Suzanne in one long, painful scene, and, thrown out of the house, went to sleep in the office. "Deprived of the comforts of married life, a divorced man might find himself experiencing something like loneliness -- desperate loneliness," Forrest intoned in voiceover as we saw him curl up over two chairs, weeping.
It's the dad-like squarishness of Daly, who created and executive produces "Review," that solidifies the series and makes it so uncommonly entertaining. Forrest has created a hell for himself, one that's being broadcast in weekly installments. His devotion to the work has already trapped him into some wonderfully dark situations that he narrates with the earnest seriousness of a news magazine, but when he tries to take solace in the importance of what he's doing, the hollowness of it is thrown back in his face with a request to rate the experience of gorging on breakfast food.
Forrest is devoted to his own strange sort of service journalism, but it's becoming clearer and clearer that he's the victim of his own concept, committed to performing terrible stunts he tries to see as valuable work. And yet Daly gives the character a kind of tragicomic nobility, even when he's vomiting outside a diner -- Forrest really does believe in what he's doing.
"Review" is based on an Australian series entitled "Review with Myles Barlow," though the more serialized sensibility is apparently an addition of the remake. "Spellbound" filmmaker Jeffrey Blitz has directed all three episodes of "Review" to date, given them the believable look of a mid-range talk or news show, complete with the sound stage that Forrest walks off of, sometimes filled with dread, to fulfill his latest mission. If "Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes" is indicative of the direction the show will be taking as its season goes along, then it's a twisted journey worth taking -- few critics suffer for their craft to the degree that Forrest already has.