Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for March 18 through 25 is “"Co-host; Ass-slap; Helen Keller; Forgiveness,” the second episode of the third season of Comedy Central’s Review.
It didn’t take long for Comedy Central’s Review to go from farcical comedy to full-on existential crisis.
Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly) is the supernaturally earnest host of Review, a fictional reality show that sends him off to review experiences his viewers are curious about, the better to find out if, in Forrest’s words, “life itself” is really even “any good.”
Since Review — the real Comedy Central series, not the show within the show — premiered in 2014, just about every one of Forrest’s reviews has taken a poignant and/or truly awful turn, no matter the subject matter. Equally terrible life experiences from season one included “going to space,” “eating 15 pancakes,” and “divorce.”
Now in its third and final season, Review finds Forrest having committed himself so fully to his job that his life has spectacularly fallen to pieces around him — a fact he almost wears as a badge of honor, since it proves his dedication to the supposed craft of life reviewing. The second season ended with Forrest tackling his producer Grant (James Urbaniak) off a bridge; the third picks up with Grant adjusting to life as a paralyzed person and Forrest doubling down on his mission.
If you’re someone who doesn’t watch Review and needs confirmation of your suspicions at this point: Yes, Review is very strange and dark. But it’s also very funny, even — or maybe especially — when oblivious Forrest makes a total mess of everything.
But whether you’re new to Review or a longtime Forrest fan like me, "Co-host; Ass-slap; Helen Keller; Forgiveness” (whew, what a title) is a fascinating chapter that plays with the show’s rules — and it still manages to be about as representative a chapter of Review as we’re ever going to get.
Forrest loses hosting duties for a hot second — and it reveals exactly how single-minded and weird his approach has been this whole time
Right off the bat, this episode upends the entire structure of the show when Forrest gets a request to review the experience of being a co-host. As he’s pondering his options, his chipper co-host A.J. Gibbs (Megan Stevenson) leaps at the chance to swap places, sitting Forrest down in her swivel chair as she marches out into the world to take on the next requested review (“What’s it like to slap a stranger’s ass?”).
Forrest has spent the past few years of his life committing himself so completely to his show that he got divorced in the first season and (accidentally!) killed someone in the second. At this point, his mental state is, uh, not on the best of footing. So watching A.J. stride off to do his job as the show’s crew breaks for lunch around him sends Forrest into a minor tailspin, leaving him to wander around backstage without a clue of what to do with himself.
Eventually he wanders into A.J.’s dressing room, where her walls are plastered with photographs of her and her many, many friends hanging out, skydiving … you know, actually enjoying the life that Forrest’s made it his job to review from a skeptical distance.
A couple of hours and countless wardrobe changes later — such is the duty of being a co-host — Forrest meets A.J. after she’s done her review. (In a perfectly meta Review joke, Forrest’s usual voiceover and A.J.’s temporary host voiceover overlap so much that neither is totally understandable.) But as it turns out, she checked in with herself and her boyfriend and realized she felt gross about the whole thing — so she just didn’t do it.
“Slapping a stranger’s ass would’ve made me disrespect someone I knew, someone I didn’t know, and someone I just got to know a little bit better: me,” A.J. says solemnly into the camera, as Forrest gapes. Not doing the review isn’t something he ever considers, because for some reason Forrest treats this job as sacrosanct duty and not, you know, a reality TV gig.
Some of Review’s best moments have come out of the contrast between Forrest’s perception of how important this show is and the perceptions of the bewildered people around him watching him burn his life down in the name of research — and this smaller-scale moment is no exception.
Reviewing what it’s like to be Helen Keller becomes a total and complete(ly horrifying) farce
At this point, it’d be wrong of me not to mention that there are few humans in comedy now or ever who have made me laugh quite like Andy Daly. The man is singularly committed, throwing himself just as hard into the job of portraying Forrest in all his absurdity as Forrest himself does into his work as the host of Review. Every time Forrest indulges a more scandalous review or finds his sanity slipping away in pursuit of nailing down a star rating, Daly finds a new way to make it hilarious, even if I’m watching him through my hands.
In that vein, we have the review for “Helen Keller,” a challenge that forces Forrest to be deaf, blind, and mute. Review doesn’t make light of her struggle; Forrest has a hell of a time trying to function at all, not least because his snickering assistants put him in a (quite nice) Victorian lace dress that keeps getting caught in the office elevator.
And because an episode of Review wouldn’t be Review without Forrest reaching new heights of inappropriate behavior, his Helen Keller phase also coincides with the day he has to give his testimony in the trial for that (accidental!) murder he committed last season.
There’s no way I could describe the pure farce that is Andy Daly casting about in a witness box in Victorian garb, so here is a visual aid:
(Forrest ends up getting acquitted after this moment, on what should perhaps be obvious grounds.)
Forrest’s review of “Forgiveness” goes horribly wrong in the most inevitable way
The episode that brought Review from good to great was season one’s “Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes.” The assumed harmlessness of eating 15 pancakes for the show — a task Forrest ended up hating with all his stomach-curdling might — was immediately chased with a gut-punch viewer request for Forrest to try divorce on for size. And he went through with it, leaving his beloved wife Suzanne (Jessica St. Clair), a decision that set Forrest down the path of no return.
So when Forrest is tasked with reviewing “forgiveness” and goes straight to Suzanne’s house, the immediate assumption is that he’s about to ask her to forgive him not just for divorcing her for a TV show but for the many, many egregious things he’s done to her since (see: catfishing, telling her he had brain cancer when he didn’t, basically stalking her as she tried to move on, and so on).
Instead, he tries to forgive her.
As Forrest rambles on about how Suzanne not believing in his work hurt his feelings, her face tenses up in shocked fury (an expression St. Clair plays beautifully). So she responds with an actual list of everything he’s done to her and their life together in the name of the show, a damning litany of truly bizarre things that also acts as a recap of the series in general.
But in true Review fashion, this moment isn’t just about how ridiculous Forrest is. “You are not a person!” Suzanne finally explodes at him, in total frustration. “You are a malfunctioning robot — and it’s sad, because you used to be a person.”
It’s a killer line, not least because we viewers also remember when Forrest MacNeil used to be a person, happily married with a kid and doing thoughtful life reviews on the side. But despite all the chaos and the truly disturbing actions he’s taken since “Divorce” sent him careening over the edge — even literally, eventually — I can’t deny that watching Forrest MacNeil: Malfunctioning Robot has been a way more memorable ride.
Review airs Thursdays at 10 pm on Comedy Central.