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Review: “Brawl, Blackmail, Gloryhole”

Andy Daly (Comedy Central)
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Season one of Review, in which everyman Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly) reviews life experiences, goes beyond cringe comedy, creating something bleak, hilarious, and weirdly affecting. Performing random assignments prescribed by an unfeeling public, Forrest plunges into everything with equal fervor: racism (half a star, the lowest rating possible), making a sex tape (five stars), eating an upsetting number of pancakes (half a star, then five stars), getting a divorce (no rating).


After the maelstrom of the first season, the prospect of greater woes awaiting Forrest is hard to imagine… for about four minutes. Then season two dives deeper than ever into disaster. Assigned to seek out a bare-knuckled brawl, Forrest (who’s only thrown one punch in his life, and that at his producer when he quit his job and disappeared into the night) assaults a man jumping the line at the ATM. Shocked, hurt, and habitually trigger-happy, the stranger shoots Forrest three times at close range.

Forrest languishes in a coma for two months and wakes to find his unfailing nurse Marisa Lopez (Allison Tolman) holding his hand. Marisa sees him through grueling physical therapy, coaxes him back to health and happiness, and falls in love with him. Then he destroys her life.

Of course he does. He’s Forrest MacNeil.

Andy Daly is a master of glib, mellifluous villains, but Forrest isn’t of that ilk. Chip Gardner and Forrest MacNeil look similar, but Forrest is no confident gladhander. Under his breezy patter, he’s hesitant, uncertain, so distanced from his own desires that he can’t see Review is both a license to indulge his (or someone’s, anyone’s) baser instincts and a bulwark against honest emotion. The show walks a high wire act balanced by Daly’s chipper, agile enthusiasm, with Forrest’s persistence in the face of doubts and his bursts of contrition retaining—or regaining—the audience’s sympathy while blithely destroying everyone around him, including himself.


Forrest’s second assignment of the season requires him to find a blackmail victim. After a cursory search, he settles on Marisa, who’s been supplying him with dead patients’ painkillers. Her only response is concern: “Do you need money? Are you in trouble?” she asks, writing him a check without pause.

But even the supportive, loving partner who saw him through a coma and the pain of physical rehabilitation can’t withstand the emotional whiplash of life with Forrest MacNeil. “You can’t blackmail me and then try to be the inside spoon!” she cries, but he sees no contradiction in renewing his extortion, then asking for a cuddle.


Allison Tolman is note-perfect as Marisa, bringing life to her clichéd nurturing warmth, fire to the coarser anger of betrayal, and a deeply human humor to both. It’s sad to think her attack on Forrest (the second shooting of the episode) and her subsequent arrest might be the end of Marisa’s arc. But given Review’s history of weaving old experiences into new ones, there’s no telling what lies ahead for Marisa, for Forrest, or for us.

When Marisa asks what happened to their trust, Forrest can’t understand her outrage and heartache. “Nothing has happened to that. Just, this… this is also happening, to both of us.” After she cuts off contact, Forrest announces solemnly, “Our relationship was in trouble, and it was blackmail’s fault.”

Andy Daly, Allison Tolman (Comedy Central)

Forrest compartmentalizes. His drive to isolate his actions from their consequences is as ferocious, unthinking, and self-serving as Don Draper’s. He wreaks havoc on himself and others, fobbing off blame and pain on his assignments instead of taking responsibility for his choices, small and large.


Forrest doesn’t grasp how his detachment from his exploits closes him off from the people he loves. The camera depicts that literally, framing the (sometimes covert) footage of Forrest with Marisa around corners and between walls. His ex-wife Suzanne (Jessica St. Clair) appears briefly, boxed into the window on a hospital door, separated from him by glass—and by the constant presence of the show’s cameras. Reviewing the experience of using a gloryhole, Forrest reflects, “In most relationships, there is some sort of wall keeping two people from truly seeing each other,” but he doesn’t realize that’s especially true for him.

Jessica St. Clair (Comedy Central)

The recurring image in “Brawl, Blackmail, Gloryhole” of Forrest MacNeil pressed against a wall—in search of gloryholes, but also in his home therapy with Marisa—is an apt one. Forrest turns away from reality, buries his head in the sand, builds walls around himself, puts his penis in a gloryhole. (Is that an idiomatic expression? That should be an idiomatic expression.) He boxes himself into this artificial existence. His putative embrace of life in service of the show forces—or allows—Forrest to forgo living his own life, taking the risks and joys that we all must take for their own sake, while subverting his assignments to his own appetites.

If there’s any doubt that Forrest’s submerged needs steer his actions and his understanding, a close look at the gloryhole adventure wipes them out. Against all evidence—common knowledge of gloryholes, thorough research into their etiquette, his assistant’s girlfriend’s knowing instruction, his gloryhole’s location in a men’s room, seeing a male park attendant in kneepads in the stall immediately after his climax—Forrest insists the anonymous mouth behind the gloryhole near his home (which he enjoys repeatedly) belongs to a woman.

He’s not content to perform the task assigned him, or to reap ecstasies from it. He’s not content being “completely satisfied without having to cater to my partner’s pleasure,” which he tellingly calls “sexual intimacy at its best.” Forrest wants more.


Filled with hope, he introduces himself to a lovely stranger he’s seen in the park, “a Ph.D. student and exactly the sort of sweet-natured person who, it seemed to me, would selflessly pleasure strange men through the partition of a bathroom stall.” Forrest first commends the anonymity of the gloryhole, then violates it in pursuit of his own gratification. He hopes to meet not just a woman, not just a woman of great sexual skill, but the woman of his dreams, and in the attempt, he cheerfully breaches the privacy implicit in the gloryhole. Forrest often declares himself bound by a higher code, exempted from social niceties in pursuit of his duty, but that sacred pledge yields to his convenience.

No matter how distanced Forrest is from his own misdeeds, he’s still more sympathetic than his producer, Grant (James Urbaniak). More coolly calculating or just more callous, Grant schemes to keep the show alive while Forrest lies near death. Grant asks, what if they smothered Forrest with a pillow? “Would he fight for life?”


It’s almost reassuring to see there’s someone more misguided than Forrest. Almost. Instead, it’s a promise that even if Forrest has misgivings, Grant stands by, ready to urge him on to destruction. Just how deep down the Review hole will Forrest sink this season? It’s impossible to predict. What Forrest sees as glory is, after all, just a hole.

In season 2, Forrest has a safety valve. He’s allotted two vetoes, letting him to skip any two suggestions. With three challenges each episode, it’s hard to imagine two vetoes will provide much relief, especially since the worst damage can emerge from seemingly innocuous assignments.


And Forrest might resist the lenience of the veto. He’s persuaded himself that Review is more than a reality show; in his mind, it’s “an incredibly essential public service” resting solely on his shoulders. His zeal isn’t shaken even by a near-fatal shooting. When co-host A.J. Gibbs (Megan Stevenson) asks whether he regrets returning, Forrest extols the virtue of his mission. “A near-death experience has a way of focusing the mind on what’s important in life, and I feel more certain than ever that what’s important in my life is this work.” (A.J.’s entire response: “Wow.”)

Perhaps more importantly, his commitment to Review puts Forrest’s life in a box. It allows him to contain and quantify his hopes and fears, to abdicate his decisions and destiny to his audience. Like the gloryhole, which gave him sexual pleasure greater than he ever imagined at the cost of the meaningful connection he craves, his random assignments give Forrest an outlet where he can create a simulacrum of life, full of physical risks, pleasures, and disappointments, but with no danger (or hope) of true connection. Despite the experiences it dictates to him, Review lets Forrest MacNeil pass through life as an observer.


Stray observations

  • Forrest’s ratings: a bare-knuckled brawl, two and a half stars; blackmail, one and a half stars; gloryholes, four and a half stars.
  • “Just shut up for a minute and let me think, Mom! Yes, it happened again, okay?” Forrest’s assailant shows up later, cutting the line for the gloryhole.
  • That’s Max Gail as Forrest’s father. With the first episode escalating from gunfire on the streets to gunfire on his doorstep, I’m already worried about Mr. MacNeil, Sr.
  • The paddling little walk reminiscent of Stan Laurel, as Forrest tries to line up his crotch to the wall behind the dumpster, and his sudden start as he wakes to a stranger’s touch in the park men’s room are a reminder that this podcast favorite also does great physical comedy.
  • I’m suddenly realizing the phrase “a close look at the gloryhole adventure” is now linked with my name in web searches forever and ever. Reviewing Review: five stars!

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