At the end of the second season of Comedy Central's Review, Forrest MacNeil tackled his boss Grant Grunderschmidt in a fit of paranoid pique, sending the two of them tumbling off the side of a tall bridge, into a raging river. When Review debuted in 2014, it was pitched as a parody of a "critic's corner" kind of show, hosted by a pompous TV personality who reports on and rate his own life-experiences. (The basic concept is based on an Australian series of the same name, currently on Hulu and YouTube.) But by the end of year one, Forrest's destructive dedication to his job had ended his marriage, and had left a trail of violence, heartbreak, and even death in its wake. Season two went even deeper and darker, turning Review into the kind of tragicomedy that could only end with the hero plunging to his probable death.
So what does the show do for an encore?
Star Andy Daly also co-produces with Charlie Siskel, and leads the writing staff alongside director Jeffrey Blitz. Given one final season to wrap up the sad saga of the colossally clueless Forrest MacNeil, the threesome are hoping to make something that pleases Review's small but devoted audience, without necessarily upping the level of shock and horror that made last year's episodes as painful to watch as they were funny. Daly, a longtime comic character actor and improv vet, spoke with me by phone about how a series this bleak gets made—and how it ends.
VICE: Without spoiling what happens in the season three premiere, let's just say that it's clever how you fill in the gaps left by the cliffhanger, during the regular process of Forrest going back to doing his life-reviews.
Andy Daly: That's our favorite way to handle exposition. The way we look at it is that anyone watching Review is only seeing Forrest's show. You never see behind the scenes unless he feels he needs to show you that, as part of him evaluating the topic. Cameras don't follow Forrest unless he's on assignment. At the start of season two, in the first segment about reviewing a bare-knuckle brawl, we found a way to lay in the information that Forrest's living with his dad and hasn't spoken to his wife Suzanne in a long time. We sort of followed that format again at the top of season three, using the context of his current review to explain his current living situation, and then the context of his second review to explain where he's at vis-a-vis Suzanne.
With so many potential ideas to pick from, how do you decide which review will best tell Forrest's story?
In season two, we covered the walls of our conference room with foam-core, and had all these potential review topics thumb-tacked to the wall. Then we would just kind of stare at it and say things like, "Buried alive... Is that fun?" [Laughs] It's hard to describe the process because it's all over the map. Sometimes we'll say, "We need something more energetic and lively," or "We need something more challenging for Forrest," or "We need something that puts Forrest in danger here," or "We need something that feels like it says something important." I will say this: We tend to think about the overall story we want to tell. This was definitely true in season three, because we knew exactly where we're hoping to go. Every episode's building up to a particular finish line.
Any review idea that you don't get to do in the show, you can always throw them into the opening credits.
Right, and just when did these reviews happen, anyway? How come we don't get to see them in full? Whatever logical problems are made up for by the fact that it's fun to see these quick hits.
Those are some of your best gags, too. Like last season, where the brief clip of a "babysitting" review is Forrest being arrested by a cop.
It's worse than that, actually. [Laughs] It's Forrest and two cops fanning out across a field. That's even more grim. Our writer Kevin Dorff had that idea. It made us all laugh and cringe, and so we did it. I like the idea that people on repeat viewings of the opening credits would appreciate more and more different things, because if you're binge-watching, you're going to see it again and again.
Do you think Forrest was ever… normal?
I think Forrest has always been pretty dumb, selfish, and narcissistic, and blind to the needs of others. But I think it was always in a generally acceptable way. He was a person who probably fumbled through life, made a lot of mistakes, and made a lot of people angry, but I think he was able to do what a lot of people like that do, which is to apologize, promise to do better, and then move on. This show has taken those basic little character flaws and magnified them via extreme life and death situations. The fact that he is so ultra-committed to this show makes Forrest disastrous. He may not have been a model citizen, or model husband, or model father, but I think he was probably getting along just fine until he decided that anything this ridiculous show asked him to do must be done to the fullest extent. That was a bad decision.
Critics have talked about how Forrest and the extreme situations he puts himself in functions as a critique of white male privilege, or even of a certain kind of TV antihero. Do you think you're making a statement? You mentioned earlier trying to pick Forrest's reviews based on whether they "say something."
I don't think we've set out to do any of that. Sometimes we read critics writing about our show, and we think, "Wow, I hadn't thought about it that way, but I agree with it, and I'm so glad someone else saw it." When I was talking about reviews that "say something," good examples of that are our "being a racist" segment, and "curing homosexuality," and also our reviews of cults and conspiracy theories. Those are pieces where someone in the room felt like giving the audience something more meaty to take away from the show. But on a larger level, I don't think we're necessarily setting out to make any giant statements. There are some out there available to be made: about a life/work balance, about getting your priorities right, about how much you're willing to do for success. And of course there's a big thing with Grant, about the extent to which people get used for greed. I feel like Grant is just looking at money, and is willing to ask Forrest to do anything to have a successful television show. So there are all sorts of ideas put out by this show for people to pick up, and that may resonate with people, but we are not primarily guided by a desire to do that.
When you did the season two finale, did you have any sense of where you were going to go next? Was that conceived as a possible series-ender?
We liked the idea in both seasons one and two of finishing in a way where if we didn't get brought back, the last episode would function as an ending. Based on the feedback I heard from people, we accomplished that with season two. A lot people said, "I'm dying to know if there's a future for Forrest and Grant, but if the show gets cancelled, we'll just assume that they died." [ Laughs] That's an ending! That's an ending that works.
But I also think that we had in mind that this would be a fun, cliffhanger-y way to end the season that would perhaps get people clamoring for more, to at least answer the question of what happened when they went off that bridge. Our vision was that at least Forrest would survive, and would go on to review life. But beyond that, I don't know that we had a whole hell of a lot more planned. Although, I should add this: At some point in the middle of producing our second season, Jeffrey Blitz, who directs every episode and runs the show with me, presented me with an idea for how Review should end. So that idea is something that we always knew that we were working toward.
Were there any concerns about whether you could top yourself? Season two was hilariously nihilistic.
No, because we went into season three knowing it was going to be the last, our goal was to give something to the fans that felt satisfying, and to make episodes of the show that could be binge-watched, all the way through from episode one to the series finale. We were thinking mainly about that. If we'd gone into season three saying that we had to top the craziness of season two, I think we might've driven ourselves nuts, y'know? Season two opens with Forrest getting shot, and then he gets lost at sea for months in a rowboat, and instigates a cult shootout, and falls off a bridge. I don't think it would've been healthy to set out to ratchet up that level of crazy.
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