Comedy Central has had a recent hot streak of great, original, and offbeat programming. Kroll Show, Inside Amy Schumer, and Key & Peele all take creative approaches to sketch comedy, and each has, in its own unique way, reinvigorated the genre as a whole. Nathan For You‘s deadpan humor made it one of the standout shows of last year, and Broad City is currently having one of the strongest first seasons I’ve ever seen. Review, premiering tonight, is the newest member of the Comedy Central family, and it’s a perfect fit. It’s a strange and somewhat twisted program, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being the funniest show to premiere in 2014.
Review is based on an Australian series, Review With Myles Barlow, although Andy Daly makes it his own. Daly stars at Forrest MacNeil, a critic who reviews not food, books, or movies but “life experiences” chosen by his viewers. It’s not a sketch show, but each episode does feature two to three different segments in which MacNeil immerses himself in these experiences so he can accurately rate them on a scale of zero to five stars.
The format of the show is partly what makes it so successful. The episodes aren’t entirely made up of Forrest MacNeil’s review program but also occasionally involve his private life (such as his marriage and neighbors) and his crew from work. There’s also some nice continuity, both within the individual episodes’ segments and from episode to episode. In the premiere, which is available to watch online in advance of tonight’s TV airing, MacNeil tackles stealing, addiction, and prom.
Review is great when it comes to comedic escalation. MacNeil starts off small by stealing some candy from the store and then quickly moves on to bigger things: someone’s groceries, a diamond necklace, and a police car — with a stolen dog in the backseat. When he gets addicted to cocaine, he really gets addicted to cocaine. Later, at the prom, there’s a lovely bit where his honed theft skills and his newfound love for drugs come together (and there’s a hilariously scene of him successfully peer pressuring a high school girl to do lines in the bathroom).
The pilot is good, and the series only gets better. It’s hard to really delve into the show without giving anything away, although one highlight that Comedy Central was smart to promote early has MacNeil review “being a racist.” This has the potential to go very sour, very quickly (both for MacNeil as a character and for Review as a show), but the show subverts our expectations and puts a clever spin on it. The easy route would be to have MacNeil recite a bunch of popular stereotypes; instead, his “hatred” stems from some very specific facts about one individual family that he believes to be overall stereotypes about black people — meaning he lobs insults about catering businesses to unsuspecting strangers.
What’s best about Review is that it takes this simplistic premise to some very weird and twisted places. MacNeil goes all in with his reviews; he will review everything and anything that people throw at him, even if it has the potential to negatively impact his health or his marriage. MacNeil has a cheerful, buttoned-up, do-gooder attitude that can quickly go south (and it often does), but it’s so fun to watch when things go awry. It’s a testament to Andy Daly’s talent that he can really sell this character, playing someone who is essentially a chaotic straight-man. Daly is a gifted comedian, and he’s solid in every episode, whether he’s coked up at a high school dance or trying way too hard to sleep with a celebrity.
MacNeil has an unwavering dedication to his reviews, and the show loves to throw curveballs and consequences at him. The third episode is nothing short of glorious. Review manages to take an activity as apparently harmless as eating pancakes and turn it into something surprisingly dark and sad — but at the same time, this episode had me laughing more than anything else I’ve seen this year. That’s the very basic spirit of Review: it can be completely fucked up, but it’s going to make you laugh.