If comedy really equals tragedy plus time, Forrest MacNeil might be the funniest character in TV history. He’s been shot, stabbed, buried, framed, arrested, even lost at sea – and that was just from a handful of episodes in Season 2.
As the show-within-a-show “Review” soldiers on in the wake of a highly improbable return (viewers may remember Forrest and his producer Grant careening off of a suspension bridge in the Season 2 finale), Comedy Central has announced that this latest batch of episodes will be its last. So, what to do when your show seemingly has nowhere else to escalate after a murder, a cult-inspired bloodbath and a months-long missing persons case? Luckily for us, Andy Daly and the entire cast and crew of “Review” are back in rare form, putting Forrest back through the ringer with the same trademark brand of blissfully cringe-inducing adventures.
For those worried that a jump in time and a fixed end date might mean the end of everything that made “Review” a top-tier comedy in its first two seasons, have no fear. AJ Gibbs’ wide-eyed glimpses of incredulity, producer Grant’s (he’s still alive!) maniacal smirks at the camera and the rest of the crew’s antics are all still on display. The veto booth also makes a triumphant return with a reveal worthy of Season 2’s most satisfying wrinkle.
And the food. Ohhhhh, the food. If one of TV’s purest half-hours of comedy did not sate your bloodlust for glorious shots of Andy Daly’s food-related revulsion, Season 3 wastes little time on a second helping. (Note: if you have sensitive gag reflexes like IndieWire’s inimitable TV editor Liz Shannon Miller, who came within mere seconds of vomiting on the IndieWire office floor while watching the first review of this season, proceed with caution. If you don’t, revel in the madness.) “Review” shines brightest when Daly is as committed to his role as Forrest is to his.
Though the number of supporting players in the Greek tragedy of Forrest’s life is relatively small for something that always feel so cosmically destined, that story choice has always kept things in focus. To a self-destructive degree, Forrest’s instincts have always led him toward the most personal possible connection to any given subject. His ever-shrinking Rolodex of human companions adds to both sides of the comedy/tragedy ledger. This season, that even stretches toward animals – when prompted to experience the possible death of a pet, of course Forrest’s immediate, first stop is not at an animal hospital, but his ex-wife Suzanne’s house.
Most of the big payoffs of “Review” have come from the intricate web of inter- and intra-episode machinations, designed to catch audience members off guard as much they do Forrest. But Season 3 continues to highlight an often under-appreciated element of this show: Forrest’s voiceover. As the host writhes in pain on the floor of the bathroom (almost assuredly something that won’t even end up being one of the ten worst things that will happen to him by season’s end), Andy Daly’s impossibly earnest delivery of Forrest’s intestinal torture is the perfect marriage of message and vessel.
One question that “Review” has always addressed, but has never fully answered, seems primed to dominate this goodbye season: “Is Forrest MacNeil actually a good person?” Almost every wrong turn or fatal decision that “Review” has thrown Forrest’s way has stemmed from a misguided sense of duty. He’s certainly guilty of misplaced priorities, something that multiple people this season reiterate to him in their respective ways. But watching Forrest form an emotional bond with a reptile or so emphatically misinterpret one viewer’s softball question, it’s hard not to marvel at how the writers of “Review” have managed to craft a character so deserving of sympathy and pity in alternating waves. Still, his slavish devotion to semantics is Forrest’s greatest weakness, and by season’s end, it may end up being his biggest crime. (Aside from him almost certainly murdering someone.)
That tight circle of members in the “Review” mythology means that the show has rapidly sped through the number of fresh angles it can take on each successive topic. The chaos surrounding this intrepid camera crew can only illuminate so much more than what the first two seasons already have. As a result, the opening pair of episodes find themselves spending more time than usual recapping the various horrific turns that led Forrest to his current fate. Though this might be a way to appeal to final season viewers or a relevant path to a bigger arc, it’s a reminder that this show’s best recurring jokes are the ones that appear without comment or emphasis. (Case in point: the refreshed slate of opening credits sequence “reviews” continues its well-established trend of ending in a truly morbid place with painfully little explanation.)
Still, this season proves that “Review” is capable of retracing some of its steps and still find satisfying twists. After the “Six Stars” puzzle adventure, episode 2 of this season (there’s something about listing the episode titles themselves that feel like giving away vital parts of the show’s surprise) finds the show back in a similar nesting-doll territory. Here, not only does “Review” travel again to the third degree of show-within-a-show-within-a-show-ness, it gives one particular side character the opportunity you can feel has been silent brewing since the beginning. And, much like a simple outing on a rowboat (this humble reviewer’s choice for the best segment in “Review” history), this show will always find some way to turn even the most banal of requests into a disaster of limitless consequence.
All of your favorite “Review” pieces are still there: lavish comedic prose, plotting worthy of Suzanne’s favorite novelist and the dogged commitment of one of TV’s truly great characters. Even with few remaining heights left unscaled, the opening of Season 3 shows that “Review” certainly won’t leave with a whimper.
“Review” Season 3 premieres Thursday, March 16 at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central.