Readers, I know a handful of you check out the review before you watch a show. I urge you to watch “William Tell, Grant A Wish, Rowboat” before you scroll down the page. Just fifteen episodes into the series’ run, it’s traditional that Review’s simplest assignments become debacles. (To be fair, so do the most arduous or sordid tasks.) But I still wasn’t prepared for the scope of the misadventure ending “William Tell, Grant A Wish, Rowboat.”
As Forrest researches “doing a William Tell,” his father offhandedly points out the horror at the crux of Review. Forrest’s appalled that Tell was “forced to shoot an apple off his son’s head with an arrow.” Mr. MacNeil replies quietly, “Yup, and he did it, too.”
And he did it, too. That’s the horror of Review, and of Forrest MacNeil. It resides not in the individual acts Forrest performs, or even in their dreadful results, but in his enthusiasm to continue. He’s horrified by the prospect of shooting an apple off his son’s head, but that doesn’t stop him from broaching the subject with Eric, conveniently due for a visit. “No, I don’t have anything planned,” he says over the phone. “Well, I do, I have one sort of… activity.”
After three days of practice “zipping a string off a stick”—and despite his impressive improvement once he learns which way is up—Forrest can’t quite bring himself to shoot arrows at his child. But he might be able to shoot them at a child, so he presents himself as a potential foster parent, getting as far as specifying, “Well, it needs to be a boy, and it would be great if he had a flat head and a thick skull,” before crumbling in shame. “This is a terrible idea. I’m a [bleep]ing monster.”
Forrest can be a monster, and the worst kind: a monster who thinks he’s blameless. But in “William Tell,” Forrest accepts both the blame and the danger that accompany his assignment, and he puts himself, not his son or any other child, in the arrow’s path. It’s a rare moment of clarity, and yet another example of Forrest interpreting his obligations loosely to accommodate his preferences.
Forrest takes the son’s place, pressing his reluctant father into William Tell’s role without even the scant practice Forrest allowed himself. After all, Mr. MacNeil won an archery trophy at summer camp! (“Of course, it melted in the fire.”) Max Gail invests Mr. MacNeil’s lines with power, but the deepest emotion shows on his face: shock, terror, determination, plain naked fear, regret—and love. Imperfect, constant love. “You’ve made a lot of mistakes in life,” Mr. MacNeil tells Forrest at the moment of crisis, but also, “I love you. I want you to be proud of me, because I’ve always been proud of you, kid.”
Lucille enjoys this spectacle thoroughly, and it’s nice to see her happy, because Mr. MacNeil’s third arrow strikes her squarely in the chest. Don’t worry, she’ll be fine! But Forrest can’t divulge more, pending litigation.
The problem with Forrest is simple, and infernally complex: He thinks he’s standing in front of the target, even when he’s the one plucking the bow strings. For his second challenge, granting a wish, Forrest hopes to build his son a long-desired go-kart. Instead, Eric’s dearest wish is to move back to Los Angeles… to live with Joe Dale, Jr., the handsome seducer Forrest used to catfish Suzanne.
Eric’s wish isn’t surprising. Joe’s fun, famous, and charismatic, with a collection of expensive toys. But for Forrest, it’s “a devastating, punishing, miserable request.” He convinces Suzanne to commit herself to “a two-faced monster” who only hooked up with her because he was craving a MILF. (Helpfully, Joe expands on that: “It’s, like, an old lady I want to [bleep].”)
Even Joe is ready to try out commitment, of a kind. He likes Suzanne so much that “whenever I get a little something on the side, I feel pretty bad about it.” Forrest confirms what he thinks he heard: Joe is already cheating on Suzanne? “Yeah,” Joe says in the tone of one with an implausible, radical idea, “but I’m going to try not to.”
Forrest thinks he’s taking on the bulk of the pain, and of the heartache, in “William Tell, Grant A Wish, Rowboat.” But even when he positions himself as the target, he puts the people he loves in the crosshairs: demanding his father shoot him with arrows, pushing his ex-wife into the arms—and home—of a philanderer, encouraging his son to look up to that rake. Even as he considers the inevitable pain in store for Suzanne and Eric—and Mr. MacNeil, who’s leaving Forrest’s office floor for Joe’s guest house—Forrest is preoccupied not with their pain, but with “the truly awful feelings associated with delivering my family into the hands of a habitually unfaithful fraud.”
After the turmoil of his first two assignments, Forrest is delighted by the third question, “What’s it like to be alone in a rowboat?” This promises to be an uncharacteristically peaceful chapter in Forrest’s harrowing series of adventures, and in this harrowing, hilarious television series.
Nope. Forrest finds the rowboat (and the double dose of oxycontin to quiet his arrow wounds) so restful, he drifts off to sleep… and out to sea. Without food, water, or cell phone reception, he’s fearful he might die there, alone on the Pacific.
But he doesn’t.
I did warn you not to scroll down.
“My review of making a wish come true had left me metaphorically lost at sea. Being literally lost at sea was even worse.” Forrest’s rowboat adventure is grimly well-realized, from small details like the camera battery dying just as he begins his heartfelt farewell to Suzanne, to the pivotal reveal of Forrest, sun-blistered and bearded after 96 days at sea, stranded in the Great Pacific garbage flotilla. He’s almost unrecognizable with his wild beard and ruddy face, but it’s Daly’s cracking voice that breaks my heart as it contrasts with the mellifluous voiceover intoning, “The mere fact of my survival is a beautiful, glorious miracle.”
This is Forrest MacNeil’s perverse appeal. He can be pettish or selfish, he’s sometimes highhanded, and he’s grossly oblivious to his misdeeds. But he’s grateful for life’s bounty of experiences, in ways that are hard to predict and easy to admire. Lost at sea for 96 days, subsisting on the trash-picking seabirds he strangles with his bare hands, Forrest adds, “It’s not a bad diet.” His castaway face and ragged figure are introduced with a mad chuckle as he turns on the camera, burbling gratitude for the discarded battery salvaged from the garbage island, because—he adds, voice rising and quavering—“I have had important experiences to share with you about rowboats!”
In the studio, with the ravages of sun damage on his face and his voice still creaking with dehydration, desperation, and solitude, Forrest is grateful for his rescue, grateful to the illegal whalers who found him, grateful for every piece of trash in the Great Pacific garbage patch. That gratitude, however corrupting, is contagious.
Forrest is enthusiastic. More than that, Forrest is enthusiasm personified. Enthusiasm isn’t reflective or tempered or wise. It’s immoderate, even fevered, often selfish. And its depths can be boundless, as boundless as the sea itself. In “William Tell, Grant A Wish, Rowboat,” Forrest faces an arrowhead’s point and the expanses of the ocean, but the real danger lies within.
Forrest’s greatest flaw as a reviewer is his inability to distinguish between the singularly weird and disturbing events he puts in motion—like double-dosing his medication, falling asleep, and getting lost at sea for 96 days—and the more usual outcome—like going for a peaceful row, then returning home—of the experiences he’s rating.
“I would have killed him five times!” “Well, how many sons do you have?” “One.” “Then, yeah, that’s a problem.” Arson, catfishing, sacrificing the lesser sons? Tina is emerging as one of the darkest characters on television. But even Tina tells Forrest, shot twice through with arrows, “You don’t have to do this.”