“Curing Homosexuality, Mile High Club” is perhaps the least uproarious, upsetting, engaging episode of Review so far…which is to say, it’s simply a very funny episode of television full of thoughtful character moments.
Forrest’s first request sounds initially encouraging, with the parents of a newly out gay man asking how they can better understand him…so they can cure him of homosexuality. Even our unflagging host is nonplussed by this assignment.
But not for long! Forrest MacNeil won’t be held back by mere impossibility, or by the suspicion he’s undertaking a philosophically offensive task. Even if he were, his producer won’t let him.
Grant’s persuasion is both adept and blatantly specious. Using a combination of flattery and shaming, he unhesitatingly constructs a rickety logical argument that only someone desperately invested in his own denial would swallow, and Forrest does.
“If you can jump-start a new life, why do you think a gay person can’t?” Grant concludes, his voice full of reproach. “Are you so homophobic that you don’t think a gay man can do what you do, just because he’s gay?”
Daly’s silent reactions add tremendously to this scene, showing Forrest’s scramble to follow this rationale and his relief when he succumbs to it. In voice-over, he distills the idea to its purest, most circular form:
“If I can get over my ex-wife, then a gay person can surely get over being gay. And if a gay person can’t get over being gay, maybe I can’t get over my ex-wife. But I can, and I did! And so can a gay person.”
This is the essence of Review. Forrest supposes himself a vessel of experience, accepting assignments and returning impartial results, but instead he filters every experience through his own narrow viewpoint. The experiments are constrained by his limited understanding and emotional obstructions; the show is shaped by his presumptions and preconceptions.
Throughout this segment, Suzanne is Forrest’s lodestar. Over and over, he compares the experience of losing a partner to the experience of repressing one’s sexual orientation. He encourages his only volunteer to take heart from Forrest’s (entirely unrelated) example. “The impossible is possible. I got over my ex-wife. You can get over your ex-sex.”
Even in his distress, Tim senses the emotional emptiness under that bluster: “You talk about her all the time.” Forrest can’t help him “get over” his sexual orientation; he can’t even stop bringing up his ex-wife.
Forrest crowds Tim (Johnny Pemberton) relentlessly, instituting hours-long “holding” sessions where the young man sits on his lap, soaking in platonic masculine affection. When lap-sitting, ipecac-dosed aversion therapy, and cathartic rebuking of Satan (in the form of Forrest’s childhood bed, which Tim hits with a tennis racquet) don’t work, Forrest buys him a lap dance.
Tim is a willing participant in his attempted conversion, but he puts up occasional resistance, making small efforts to regain his personal space. Sitting on Forrest’s lap for the first time, prodded to share his feelings, Tim reports “just maybe thinking about cologne and mouthwash”; he excuses himself from the lap dance, saying, “I just need some space.”
Reinforcing how Forrest’s own preoccupations color everything about his supposedly objective reviews, his final score for this sweet, largely painless experience doesn’t reflect its ease, its efficacy, his happiness at what he thinks is success (it isn’t), or Tim’s serenity as the experiment ends. Exulting in his new romance with Tim’s lap dancer, Forrest rates the experience two stars, “two beautiful stars who belong together.” Despite his self-declared devotion to Review’s social value, he distorts the ratings system frivolously, with no regard for its use as a guide.
“Curing Homosexuality” is a surprisingly sweet segment of this often brutal show, but its perception is keen. Tim finds peace with his desires—and with fellow Dick Town patron Pete, who helps him reach “a breakthrough.” He doesn’t bother contradicting Forrest’s misunderstanding that he’s been cured; it’s enough that Tim knows and accepts himself. He even spares some solicitude for Forrest (a gentle “Good luck getting over your ex-wife”) on his way out the door. It’s rare, and gratifying, to see someone swept up in Review benefit from the experience, even in direct opposition to Forrest’s goal.
Shampoo (Mary Birdsong) isn’t so lucky.
Unwilling to force a lap dance on Tim, she voices what could be the motto of unwitting Review participants everywhere: “I just feel bad.” But not as bad as she’ll feel when Forrest takes her to San Francisco, ostensibly to meet his son, and actually to accomplish his next challenge: Join the mile high club!
Predictably, he waits until they’re in the air to spring the plan on her, and she’s both disgusted and hurt by his presumption. (The woman trapped in the window seat next to them delivers great reactions, from her first flicker of interest to her final commiserating glance.) Birdsong’s decisive lowering of the armrest between them is crisp and eloquent. They’re trapped together in a tight space, but she’s taking back what she can of it.
Forrest disdains Shampoo as “a professional clothes remover,” never seeing his hypocrisy. After all, he’s a professional glory hole enthusiast who abandons his girlfriend mid-flight in search of another woman—any other woman—to help him fulfill his mission, and finally picks up a street-walking sex worker to accompany them and his son back to Los Angeles.
Forrest’s hypocrisy is crucial to Review. It allows him to imagine himself above the fray of the usual human passions and vices while delving into them more deeply and erratically than most people would ever dream of doing. Only Forrest MacNeil could stalk out of the studio, turning his nose up at a helpful co-worker as “one of those guys who carries a condom everywhere you go, huh? Yech,” then have sex with a woman who’s serviced a half-dozen men during the hour-long flight—in front of his son and ex-girlfriend.
“There was no way of editing that that didn’t make it seem horrifying,” he admits to A.J. as the footage ends, and that remark brings up a specter behind every cruel, debauched experience he presents. Every appalling event of Review has been edited, probably to his advantage. But in “Curing Homosexuality, Mile High Club,” there’s no wiggle room to make Forrest look better, or even slightly less awful.
- Forrest’s ratings: curing homosexuality, two stars; joining the mile high club: three stars.
- Forrest’s segment-ending disclaimer, “To be clear, I don’t have a problem with anyone’s sexual orientation,” is undermined when he immediately follows it with the construction “curing a gay.”
- “Have you ever looked closely at a man’s flaccid penis? It looks like something that belongs on a lifeless ocean floor.”
- At the strip club, Forrest “would love a drink, if they have a pinot grigio that looks good.”
- For his initial research into his first assignment, Forrest seeks out enlightenment “at the gay sex shop near my Dad’s house.” Between this and the glory hole, Mr. MacNeil’s neighborhood sounds like the place to be for man-on-man encounters.
- “This is going to take, like, one or two minutes,” Forrest tells Margaret testily.