Comedy Central’s Review is the most insane and insanely funny show on TV. It has a premise – an overcommitted nerd reviews audience-submitted life experiences, from eating a truly upsetting amount of pancakes to using a glory hole to staying in a haunted house to eating even more pancakes – that seems naturally suited for a series of sketches. And while each episode is basically structured as a triptych of largely self-contained reviews, there is a continuity tracking the utter destruction of host Forrest MacNeil’s life, and that of his loved ones, as well as any number of unfortunate bystanders, in this pursuit. It’s this continuity that makes the show into a shockingly dark, stealthily insightful satire of the risks of disassociating ourselves from our own experiences, as these crazy modern times wut we lives in makes it easier and easier to do.
As someone who spends much of his free time dissecting and criticizing what should by all accounts be leisure activities, Forrest’s position as a reviewer who destroys his own life by dissecting and rating it resonates with me on a rather specific level. While having an intermittent TV blog does not put me in much danger of being stranded on an oceanic trash flotilla or shot by my father with a bow and arrow, I do sometimes worry that, for example, I may have soured myself on True Detective’s universally-beloved first season by forcing myself to put each episode under the microscope on a weekly basis. I love Game Of Thrones to bits, which I why I’ve chosen to write extensive analyses of its last 30 episodes, despite literally no one asking me to do that. But does forcing myself to adopt a pose of semi-objective even-handedness, to obsess over the bad parts and vivisect the good ones, actually make me enjoy it any more?
Review would suggest the opposite. The act of reviewing life turns Forrest’s own into a parade of horrors that would make Job weep in pity – except that our guy is bringing it all directly upon himself. It’s not the first narrative to satirize the act of criticism, but what makes Review’s take stand out is that it avoids the standard saw that critics are just bitter hacks who tear down works of true genius out of jealousy. No matter how much truth there may be to that assessment, it is always going to feel self-serving coming from the pen of someone whose work is subject to attack by such critics. But there is not the slightest trace of bitterness in Forrest’s disposition. He’s full of enthusiasm for his work no matter how much it costs him, though it doesn’t take long for it to cost him so much that he has to either double down or face the reality that he gave up so much for nothing. He’s a million miles from one the spiteful caricatures you’ll find in Birdman or Lady In The Water, or even Anton Ego. He’s more like Lenny from Of Mice And Men, petting his beloved rabbits until they die (not, in Forrest’s case, before leaving him with a drug-resistant strain of gonnorhea).
And so Review’s needling of the critical mindset never betrays the defensiveness you can feel in so many of these sorts of depictions. It feels a great deal of compassion for Forrest, and by extension all of us blogging, Yelp-ing folks who are prone to exsanguinate the things we love most, sacrificing our own enjoyment of our experiences in the name of some critical distance that no one else gives much of a shit about anyway.
Because the other important facet of Forrest’s character is that for all his suitability as a crash test dummy, he is an absolutely atrocious critic. He takes great pains to paint his reviews in the pretense of objectivity, while the results could not be any more wildly subjective. Fed a steady stream of dangerous, horrifying tasks, he consistently takes them to horrifying, destructive ends that he nonetheless treats as if they are the natural, essentially inevitable, outcome. The pretense of randomness allows him to abdicate responsibility for his actions, and he embraces that excuse to behave transgressively with nerdy gusto.
The effect is that seemingly innocuous tasks like visiting space or spending time alone in a rowboat consistently lead to the worst results, and receive lower ratings than self-evident horrors like being buried alive or founding a cult. If there’s a “message” from Review to its audience/critics (and in the internet age, how meaningful is such a distinction?), it’s not to worry about being objective or categorizing your experiences. If Forrest was capable of living in the moment every now and then, his father-in-law may not have died in space, he wouldn’t be reduced to catfishing his ex-wife, or a diet that swings between hand-murdered raw seabird and really, just an ungodly amount of pancakes, or be left with weird, frequently infected genitals, and of course he would not have been shot, stabbed, institutionalized, fallen off bridges, or kicked in the balls nearly as much.
“Life: it’s literally all we have. But is it any good?” Forrest asks at the beginning of each episode. But the season 2 (series?) finale closes with his chipper, vaguely sociopathic co-hostess opining “Life! You’re already living it! Ain’t it great?” It is at that, AJ. Even when it’s horrifying, and hilarious, and random. Kind of like your show.