Television has never known what to make of Andy Daly, though he’s been a regular small-screen presence since his run on MADtv in the early ’00s. One of the funniest performers to emerge from the training grounds of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, Daly excels at fully embodying comedic personas, a chameleon-like commitment to character that’s made him a favorite guest on podcasts like Comedy Bang! Bang! and Superego. Most TV shows aren’t built to sustain Daly creations like lecherous theater producer Don DiMello or cowboy poet/probable murderer Dalton Wilcox, personalities with detailed biographies whose hysterical darkness seeps forth in accidental admissions and blackly comedic non sequiturs. That sensibility meshed well with the early seasons of Eastbound & Down, but two-faced school administrator Terrence Cutler couldn’t steal scenes from a force like Danny McBride’s Kenny Powers. For Daly to earn the proper TV spotlight, he needed to find the show that let him be the Kenny Powers—or the fallen baseball star’s more secretly dastardly equivalent.
Enter Forrest MacNeil, a bookish, perpetually khaki-clad critic who’s broken from the confines of reviewing the arts to instead critique everyday life. His dedication to the discipline is unwavering, his demand to find profundity in all subjects absolute. And so it is that Daly was finally able to find the TV character worthy of his talents, a man who slowly reveals his insanity by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results that he can then rank on a scale of one-half to five stars. If anyone is going to make Job-like misfortune and soul-wrenching desperation some of the funniest stuff on TV, it can and should be Andy Daly.
Based on the Australian comedy Review With Myles Barlow, the show-within-the-show on Review is merely a starting point: Each episode begins with Forrest accepting the first of the week’s three assignments, submitted by fictional audience members and relayed by co-host A.J. Gibbs (Megan Stevenson). But as each new segment demonstrates, there’s a whole world within Review, a sneaky sense of continuity that begins to crystallize in episode two, “Sex Tape, Racist, Hunting.” Forrest’s job frequently interferes with his homelife, making Jessica St. Clair’s Suzanne MacNeil a befuddled bystander in her husband’s dalliances with addiction, kleptomania, and other unbecoming traits. St. Clair is another UCB-trained actor who’s had difficulty finding a foothold on TV, and though Review isn’t Suzanne’s show, it makes great use of St. Clair’s flair for big, loud emotions.
Fitting for a star whose improvised podcast appearances frequently turn down dark alleyways, Review really gets going when it digs deep into horrible behavior. Forrest affably accepts tasks like attending senior prom and sleeping with a celebrity, but the completion of those tasks often depends on unsavory methods. The way one Review segment bleeds into another provides some of the show’s best gags: It might help to know that the character’s prom night completes the episode that begins with the addiction assignment. What initially appears to be a rigid structure eventually affords Review with a tremendous amount of freedom, particularly when it pulls Suzanne, intern Josh (Michael Croner), or producer Grant (James Urbaniak) into the madness. (Fred Willard is also reliably hilarious as Suzanne’s father, who provides his son-in-law with a valuable hunting lesson in the second episode.) Episode three, “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes,” is an early frontrunner for one of 2014’s funniest half-hours, as it uses the framework established by previous episodes to pull Forrest in and out of an outrageous dark night of the soul.
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But the real attraction here is Daly, getting a TV part he can truly sink his teeth into. Forrest’s story is one of those damnably common vocational irony narratives—he’s reviewing life, but he’s not really living it—but the goofy gung-ho spirit Daly gives the character (and the heights of insanity that spirit takes him to) hurdle over cliché. The Review host is more of a blank slate than the curdled cartoon characters the star plays in the audio realm, but that leaves him more vulnerable to life’s cruelties. The cretins who wander into the Comedy Bang! Bang! studio have already run the gauntlet; Review is the fiendishly fun “before” picture to their haggard “after.” Forrest MacNeil wants to find the meaning of all things, but sometimes eating 15 pancakes is just eating 15 pancakes. The impact of that realization just might destroy Forrest, but it could also make a star out of Andy Daly.