You can’t go home again, so the saying goes. You can’t step in the same river twice… or, uh, you can’t leap into the same river, dragging your colleague and closest remaining friend with you, twice. So how does a show recover from its own spectacular season-ending (and at the time, potentially series-ending) plunge into uncertainty?
When the series is led by Forrest MacNeil, it returns with glib delight and terrifying certainty, that’s how. Having survived the fall from the bridge and the ensuing months in the wilderness subsisting on animal droppings, Forrest is more convinced than ever of the importance—the ineffable significance—of his work, against all evidence. After hearing his first assignment (“What’s it like to try our new Locorito?” asks the viral-marketing team from Neato Taquito), Forrest shakily reaffirms to the audience and to himself his belief that fate has spared him for the sole purpose of answering “the vital questions of our time.”
Andy Daly is a genius at the roars and wails that accompany Forrest’s suffering, and his repertoire of grimaces remains as impressive as ever. But these quieter alternating moments of beaming faith and smothered doubt are where he really nails down Review’s poignancy and its tragedy. Watching this series of self-engineered disasters befall a caricature would be an empty exercise in cartoonish brutality. Watching them pile upon a person as devastatingly real as Daly makes Forrest is excruciating, but endlessly hilarious. I feel awful laughing at Forrest’s misery, and I can’t stop.
Now, about that “fall.” That’s how Forrest repeatedly refers to the precipitous drop from the bridge where he faced off with Grant in the second-season finale, but the editing shows the truth: Forrest lunges for Grant, yelling, “If I’m going to die, you’re going to die, too!” and sends them both falling to the rocks below. This isn’t the first time Forrest has embraced his survival as a literal miracle, and not the first time he’s effortlessly elided his own responsibility in the misfortunes of others. (In an in-character Twitter AMA yesterday, Forrest MacNeil again made reference to “so many people lost” without acknowledging he’s the cause of all this loss.)
That same self-deception lets Forrest see the afflictions of others, but not his own. Acquiring via “www.craigslist.com” a Locorito from the now-defunct chain restaurant, Forrest both recoils from the chaos of the hoarder/Craiglist seller’s home and acknowledges his gratitude “for whatever mental illness allowed me to complete my mission.”
Forrest is a man who will buy a long-expired burrito and scrape every moldy, rancid crumb into his mouth, a man who will try to trick his ex-wife and son into handing over their dog so he can euthanize it, a man who can rain misery on himself and everyone around him, all the while believing himself to be an instrument of fate. Forrest, who has let Review’s demands eclipse everything else in his life, has no business judging other people’s mental stability. He’s even let his singleminded pursuit of a Locorito drive out of his mind the crucial jury-selection stage of his upcoming murder trial.
And that is both the stupidity and the brilliance of the psychology driving Review. Forrest MacNeil has made such a wasteland of his life that he no longer has anything in his life but Review. The deeper he digs his hole of loss and sorrow, the more entrenched he becomes in his commitment to the show’s value. To admit any of it is unnecessary is to admit all of it was. And the more Forrest loses, the more he wants to lose himself in his assignments.
That loss, however self-inflicted (hint: it’s totally, completely self-inflicted) leaves Forrest quietly desperate for companionship. Sure, he lives with Grant, but renting a cot in the garage of his producer’s home doesn’t provide much companionship. No wonder he falls so hard for Beyoncé, the abandoned bearded dragon he adopts for the express purpose of euthanizing him. As Beyoncé recovers his appetite and energy under Josh’s (and eventually Forrest’s) doting care, Forrest bonds with the lizard, and his ardor betrays the well of loneliness that Review’s cruel attrition has created in its host.
Given the injury Grant has suffered for Review (having borne “the brunt of our impact,” he’s now paralyzed from the waist down), perhaps it’s understandable that he spurs Forrest to push past both the joy he takes in his new pet and his resulting reluctance to, y’know, kill it for no reason. Forrest’s proposed compromise—to adopt a second bearded dragon, Deyoncé, expressly for the purpose of euthanizing it—meets Grant’s approval with suspicious ease, and the grin on Grant’s face as he exits suggests that, like Josh and Tina, he knows what will happen when Forrest puts both lizards in the same cage.
In my review of “Conspiracy Theory,” I described Review (the show-within-a-show starring Forrest MacNeil) as a monster of Forrest’s own creation that feeds upon his life, chewing up him and anyone he touches, but I never thought Review (the show starring Andy Daly) would make that metaphor so literal. When Forrest finds his pet’s severed foot in the shared cage, he’s heartbroken. But with that ominous discovery, “Locorito, Pet Euthanasia, Dream” also hints that Grant and Forrest will consume each other as thoroughly, and as cannibalistically, as Deyoncé eats Beyoncé.
That might sound like a leap, but Andy Blitz’s script draws the comparison repeatedly, both subtly and explicitly. The old-west “wanted” poster of himself and his lizard that Forrest has Lucille craft echoes the missing (and “also missing”) poster of Forrest and Grant that closed season two. Like the two lizards, Forrest and Grant are keeping ill-advisedly close quarters, with Forrest’s bunk in the garage as spare as Beyoncé’s cage before Forrest acquires Deyoncé and all his accoutrements. But you don’t need to look for unspoken hints comparing Forrest and Grant to bearded dragons. Forrest flat-out says it: “He just returned from the brink of death. Does that sound familiar? That happened to you and me, too, right? You relate to him, don’t you?”
Jeffrey Blitz’s direction always makes the most of the limitations of space, using the camera’s intrusion into closed-off rooms to enhance the documentary feel of the fictional series, to emphasize the viewer’s voyeurism (and therefore our complicity), and to direct the audience’s eye to details Forrest himself can’t—or won’t—see. But in “Locorito, Pet Euthanasia, Dream,” the camera’s awareness of the familiar glass-walled offices of Review serves a very specific purpose: to draw a parallel between Beyoncé in his glass cage and Forrest in his, as Grant gazes across with a blank, unreadable stare.
Whatever destruction he leaves in his wake, however blithely he absolves himself of responsibility, there’s a buoyancy to Forrest MacNeil that’s as irresistible as it is inextinguishable. Who else would be so grateful to be sleeping in his boss’ garage? Who else would sit down to eat an at least six-month-old second-hand novelty burrito with the gusto Forrest exhibits? Who else would give four stars to a reenacted dream sequence exposing all his vulnerabilities (and, um, his vulnerabilities) to the world, because “a group project is always fun”?
If Review ran forever, detailing a never-ending series of adventures, exploits, and horrors, I would watch it forever, laughing and wailing and wincing and then watching again, thanks largely to Daly’s virtuoso performance. It isn’t Forrest’s pain that’s funny, or his stubborn refusal to see the truth. Both the humor and the pathos of the show come from Forrest MacNeil’s rise and fall, a rhythm that Review masters mercilessly: the plunge from determination, hubris, even joy, to despair, and relentlessly back again. Review is both the great comedy and the great tragedy of our time. The biggest question at this point is whether Forrest will let his obsession consume him completely in true tragic fashion, or if he will escape its maw at the last.
- Forrest’s ratings: eating a Locorito, one star; putting a pet to sleep, three stars; making your dream come true, four stars.
- Poor Suzanne, who doesn’t dare open the door to the man she once loved and trusted. Review has long used architectural elements to close Suzanne off from Forrest; I wouldn’t be surprised if we never see her again not behind a closed door or pane of glass.
- Here’s a shout-out to whatever department is in charge of doctoring up the Locorito. That thing is revolting.
- Likewise, that neon orange vomit. The courtroom scene is so flawlessly executed that even upon second viewing, distracted by grabbing screenshots and taking notes and consciously looking away before he barfed, I still laughed so hard I had to rewind to hear the dialogue.
- Welcome back for season three of Review! It’s a short season, but however long we have together, thanks for joining me.