Essential Episodes – Review

Essential Episodes is a new series on the site where we discuss the best episodes from our favourite comedy shows, and what makes them so special.

Review Season One Episode Seven – “Revenge; Getting Rich; Aching”

“Life, it’s literally all we have, but is it any good?” Andy Daly’s Forrest MacNeil asks over the opening credits to Review (which is also known as Review With Forrest MacNeil), a semi-remake of the also fantastic Australian series Review With Myles Barlow, which sees Daly take on the character of a former film reviewer who now has a new role – reviewing life. Allowing members of the public to write in to ask him to comment and rate anything and everything, the series led to him experiencing road rage, attending an orgy, being racist, pretending to be Batman, going in to space and so much more. It’s gloriously funny stuff as Andy Daly’s Forrest MacNeil takes his role far too seriously – at times painfully so – and is prepared to damage his relationships with others and screw up his life in general if it means completing a review.

It was hard to choose a single episode to write about as I love so many of them, there’s not a single bad episode in the run, just various levels of fantastic. It’s easily in my top five favourite ever comedy series list, and that’s a list which includes over 2,583 tv programmes. In the end I chose this one as it’s one which works well introducing people to the concept and yet also has a nicely surreal edge to it. Oh, and it’s incredibly funny throughout too.

The first topic Forrest is asked to review is Revenge, where we’re presented with a video clip from a high school quarterback who says they’re thinking of getting revenge upon a rival from a different school, so Forrest begins by looking for someone he can take revenge upon, at first declaring “Oh Tim!” before realising “Oh, I think he died” with dismay. Which sums up Forrest perfectly, as he’s upset not that Tim is dead but simply because it means he can’t take revenge upon him. Not that he’s a callous man, he’s just unthinking of the consequences of any of his actions. He finally settles on a kid named Randy Romer who claimed Forrest had shat himself once, and so a girl didn’t go with him to a dance. It turns out that Randy (played as an adult by Rich Fulcher) is now an associate professor and thus Forrest bursts in to his classroom pretending he’s a dry cleaner, delivering underwear that had previously had a giant poop stain on it. It’s ridiculously silly stuff with Forrest adopting a terrible Italian accent for some unknown reason, but it’s highly effective as Romer’s students find the whole thing hilarious. Then we’re back in the studio and it seems like it’s going to be a short review, with Forrest about to give it five stars, until Forrest’s co-host AJ Gibbs (Jessica St. Clair) is suddenly covered in animal shit Carrie style, leading her to scream “Kill him Forrest, kill him!”. If there’s a minor issue with the programme it’s that AJ is rarely fleshed out as a character, and normally fairly vapid throughout, but it’s a delight to see her darker side here.

After the event Forrest declares vengeance a second time, telling his assistant “Lucille, I need German dialect tapes and lederhosen” though we sadly never find out what his plan is as it turns out that Romer is in Forrest’s office, shitting on his desk. At this point Forrest remembers that Randy has a history of mental illness, apparently once feeding the school guinea pig to a neighbours rottweiler which upset so many that he ended up being institutionalised over the matter, and so Forrest goes to his house with a peace offering. At first Romer presumes that Forrest is there for a second bout of revenge, shouting “I have five knives hidden on my body”, but they reconcile when Forrest gives him a gift – though not before Romer tells him “You do know that if this is shit I’m going to decapitate you”, but Forrest being Forrest he can only agree, buoyantly saying “And you would be right too”. Indeed at first it seems like it’s a genuinely considerate present, a book of toilet humour which the professor appreciates. But then the package explodes covering him in shit and violence ensues. It’s clear AJ is behind the prank, and it’s great to see her being so devious, with St.Clair shining during this opportunity to be twisted. Understandably after everything has taken place Forrest only gives Revenge an one star rating, as the repercussions were all rather grim.

Now I’m not the biggest fan of scatological humour and the series rarely features such a thing, but the way it’s handled here it never feels too disgusting or nausea inducing. Well, bar maybe AJ’s mishap in the studio perhaps. There’s also a great deal of absurd humour, from Forrest’s dodgy impression of a dry cleaner to Romer’s reaction to seeing Forrest outside of his house. It’s all underscored by Forrest doing his best to really understand what getting revenge is like, and his passion for the project no matter how daft things get. Plus there’s a rare glimpse of an admirable side to his character when we see how upset he is by AJ being covered in excrement.

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The next review is “What’s It Like To Get Rich Quick?” where Forrest admits that he needs this as reviewing life experiences is expensive, which leads to a montage of clips from recent episodes including Forrest screaming “Cocaine is amazing”, smashing his car up with a baseball bat, his divorce and the cost of going in to space. His assistant Lucille persuades him to go to a seminar which costs $1776 (plus a $200 processing fee) which is led by Thad Valentine (Miles Fisher), a confidence trickster who opens the seminar declaring “I used to be just like you, lonely, lost and ugly”. A smart and satisfying satire of such people, there’s clips of a variety of silly confidence enhancing exercises, and then Forrest meets an overweight woman who tells him “I’ve always had a weight problem, the doctors say it’s because I eat too much, but who knows, right?” who goes on to claim she has a million dollar idea, a muzzle which works on a time lock so you can’t eat between meals. Forrest hates the idea, but tries to be nice and suggest it’ll work as that’s the kind of swell guy he is.

It then turns out that Forrest was supposed to turn up with a one million dollar idea, which he inevitably hasn’t done, but instead of taking any responsibility he blames Lucille, it’s another example of him sometimes being a shitty human being and one who believes he’s largely faultless, but Daly plays the character so sympathetically that you can’t help but like him.

After this they’re asked to walk on hot coals whilst shouting out their ideas (my favourite being “a self moisturising bra”), Forrest can’t think of anything to say so steals the muzzle idea, which understandably pisses off the inventor and Forrest ends up rolling around on the coals. Cue a meeting with Valentine and his lawyer who wants to avoid it going to trial, and he’s given $70,000 to make it all go away. Returning to the studio for a summary of the review and still recovering from his injuries AJ mentions “I’m beginning to think nothing will ever go well for you Forrest”, but true to character he awards the review four stars, only seeing the upside to events, especially as he’s now invested in the muzzle device. Whilst the outcome of that is never revealed, as Forrest is now involved it’s doomed to fail.

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The final review is what makes the episode so special though, and one of my favourites, as Forrest receives a tweet from @bubblebaths which reads “Forrest please review there all is aching” – which clearly makes no sense, but Forrest being the consummate pro / idiot that he is insists on trying to do the review anyway. Initially he thinks it’s a complicated code and spends ages trying to work it out, but after failing he then takes on the speech pattern of the sentence in everything he says, which means no one understands anything he says and after producer Grant (The Venture Bros’ James Urbaniak, who’s superb in the role) presumes he’s had a stroke he’s forced to go to a doctor to undergo a brain scan. Because Forrest is so dedicated to the review, despite the obvious ridiculousness of it all, he refuses to stop talking in such a complicated manner, often repeating “There all is aching”, which understandably means he’s soon institutionalised. Even this doesn’t diminish his happy demeanour, and he’s still eager to follow the experience wherever it takes him, which includes electroshock therapy and being given drugs to sedate him.

Whilst in hospital he meets Georgie (guest star Emo Phillips, the perfect person to have in such a role), another patient who speaks like him, and he and Forrest bond immediately, with Forrest thinking he’s met someone “also searching for the truth”, and so creates an escape plan with his newfound friend. There’s a lovely callback to one of the previous reviews as we see Randy Romer is now also in the hospital, before Forrest escapes with Georgie, who when free says “Thank you so much I wanna to kill Mrs Penny now like you ordered”. Once again we’re then back in the studio, and Forrest sums up the events “as mirroring mankinds search for meaning in a random and senseless universe that too often leads us to inflict horrors upon one another.” But then a stagehand gives AJ a note and it’s revealed that there was a glitch in the question system, and that tweet was from someone with the name thereallisaching (aka the real lisa ching) asking Forrest “Please review bubble baths”. Which for once would be something that Forrest would have enjoyed and so it’s a lovely bittersweet moment.

What I love about the episode is how many styles of comedy it mixes up, there’s absurdity, silliness, cringe humour, satire and farce, whilst Forrest’s assistant Lucille always gives a droll edge to matters. It wouldn’t work without Daly’s central performance though, it’s an incredible tour de force, whilst Forrest is a sometimes egotistical and pig headed type he’s nearly always optimistic and amiable, trying to remain upbeat despite the many terrible things which happen to him as he genuinely believes that his reviews are of benefit to the rest of the world, which makes him extremely likeable despite all of his flaws.

Running for only three seasons Review is one of the most perfect comedy shows ever made, without an ounce of flab, each episode is beautifully written and the characterisation is stunning in each and every one. It also includes an ongoing narrative as the reviews effect Forrest’s life in mostly bleak yet incredibly funny ways, and it ultimately ends in the most satisfying way I can imagine. It’s rare that I’d implore people to watch something, but I feel you’d be truly missing out if you don’t watch this astonishing series.

Related Links:
The Guardian Interview With Andy Daly.
Review On Itunes.

Alex Finch.

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