Forrest MacNeil has disappeared. This could be a positive development.
Review is the funniest TV debut of 2014, but that goes beyond mere joke-telling to encompass an impressive structural daring. These nine episodes have told a story from beginning to end, and they’ve told it ingeniously, depicting Forrest’s unraveling in the margins between his critiques of “life itself.” In the event the show comes back for a second season, it will need to find a different story to tell. “Quitting, Last Day, Irish” puts the perfect button on the demise of “Forrest MacNeil,” the self-serious guy whose on-camera façade cracks only when he dresses down his producer at the end of the season finale. In a further display of the show’s smarts, Forrest has to break through two layers of character—dropping the Irish brogue that’s part and parcel of his maybe-final review—to sincerely deliver the resignation speech he’s insincerely recited twice before.
But there’s a good chance that Andy Daly and team can find another hysterical tale of woe and despair for Forrest, because Review is malleable like that. Over the course of this first season, Review could be whatever show it wanted to be. The show has sketch comedy in its genes, with the unending reinvention and scene-resetting that goes along with that. In one segment, it can be a superhero adventure. In another, it can be a found-footage horror film. The spy shots in any of the show’s unfortunate visits to the bedroom have the amateurish, grimy feel of a voyeuristic creepfest. In “Quitting, Last Day, Irish,” it’s much closer to the basic, behind-the-scenes mockumentary that introduced peeping-Tom realism to the TV comedy vocabulary. It’s the right choice, because this is the half-hour in which Forrest speaks most directly to his audience.
In turn, this is also the episode in which someone finally breaks through to Forrest MacNeil. It was always going to be his wife, Suzanne, and Jessica St. Clair fulfills that role admirably. The actress is a natural in parts that call for a heavy dose of comedic panic (see also: the one-hour premiere of Playing House), but she’s a crucial grounding presence on Review, one that hits some affecting dramatic notes in her “Quitting, Last Day, Irish” performance. The episode very nearly waves away all of Forrest’s insane behavior in its second segment, but he keeps pushing through, because he must behave insanely. That sets up the ultimate confrontation with the show’s most resonant questions: Does the job of a lifetime take precedence over living that life?
Work has consumed Forrest MacNeil, but he fights back tonight. The failures to properly execute the episode’s first review set up a satisfying conclusion to his season-one journey: The departure that truly counts, the one backed by the passion missing from his first quitting and the catharsis missing from his second, is the one that gets him off of Review. It’s a convenient conclusion, but it works because of everything that leads up to it. We know how hard it is to see Forrest quit anything, be it narcotics or his attraction to his obviously unhinged second wife. The depths of his commitment receive all sorts of reiteration in “Quitting, Last Day, Irish,” illustrated by the turnaround job he does on the coffee stand or the sheep herd he raises on the front lawn. The finale gives this self-destructive tendency one last, gratifying jab in the eyeball. All that remains to be defeated is the addictive allure of the camera.
“Quitting, Last Day, Irish” sets up a major heel turn for Forrest’s producer, Grant—though James Urbaniak has portrayed the character as a manipulative, opportunistic prick for most of the season. (That’s right in the wheelhouse for television’s Dr. Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture.) But the cherry on top of the finale is the reveal that Review’s true villain is the show itself. It’s this weird, parasitic thing that’s already attached itself to a new host (hey! Double meaning!) in the episode’s final scene—A.J.’s sign-off is a wicked little acknowledgment that Review doesn’t die with Forrest. But Forrest isn’t necessarily dead; according to the ticker that runs atop the closing credits, it’s Grant who’s searching for him, not Suzanne. Even so, it’s entirely likely that a second season of Review will open up with Forrest back in his royal blue prison cell, living out the kind of mythical nightmare that powers so much of the output from the studio behind Review, Abso Lutely. Like Tom Peters or Steve Brule before him, Forrest MacNeil can only deny his toxic ambitions for so long.
Episode grade: A
Season grade: A-
- Let’s all email that address in the credits and see if we get any sort of response. For those that missed it, it’s email@example.com.
- “You couldn’t manage a ham sandwich” is a very Forrest insult.
- On that note: I obviously didn’t devote enough words up top to Andy Daly’s superlative work as Forrest MacNeil—probably because he did the Andy Daly thing of disappearing so fully into the character of Forrest. It’s one thing to keep a straight face while being the funniest person in the room; it’s an entirely separate thing to transmit that presence and that perspective into the very essence of a program as uproarious as Review—and that work deserves to be commended.
- More cast shoutouts: Tara Karsian (as Lucille) and Michael Croner (as Josh) get their own moments to shine in “Quitting, Last Day, Irish.” I especially love how Croner maintains Josh’s oblivious obsequiousness even as he’s being held to the ground by police officers. “Thank you! I’ve learned a lot from you! About myself, and about the business!”
- Favorite review? “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes” is a beautiful piece of TV tragicomedy from start to finish, and the big twist during “Space” is so fast and so brutal—and then it hangs over the rest of the segment, like the limp corpse of Forrest’s father-in-law. But the true gem of this first season is “There All Is Aching,” a wonderfully weird, warped representation of everything Review does right. (There’s a nice echo of that segment in the way Forrest’s “Irish” narration is all done with an accent.)