Comedy Central’s cult hit Review is all about unintended consequences, but you can chalk up its survival for a third and final season — which premieres Thursday — to some smart long-term planning.
“Midway through the production of Season 2, Jeff Blitz, who directs every episode and runs the writing room with me, said to me one day, ‘I have an idea for how Review should end,’” Andy Daly, the creator and star of the series, told Inverse last week. “He pitched it to me over lunch, and I was like, ‘Yep, I love that.’”
But after their experience with the end of Review’s first season — which premiered in 2014 and was kept in limbo for many months before being renewed — they knew their chances of realizing that perfect ending were dicey. Worried they might find their show on the chopping block again, Daly and Blitz decided to force the network’s hand as best they could.
“We had this notion that, when ending the second season, that it would be fun to force a third season by ending it on a cliffhanger,” he explained, laughing. “You can’t really do that, of course, so by ending Season 2 on a cliffhanger, if it was the end, at least something happened there. If we never got to do more after the season, you’d have to assume they died, and that would be an ending of some kind.”
Seeing Daly’s character, Forrest MacNeil, tumble off a bridge, as he did at the end of the second season, would have definitely been a fitting end to what has become one of the sharpest shows of the last few years. Based on an Australian series, Review is a chaotic and perceptive mockumentary, with MacNeil as reviewer of life, a job he takes dead seriously. In each episode, he’s given several challenges by “viewers,” and off he goes to try out being a racist, going to space, joining the mile high club, being buried alive, getting divorced, and many other experiences.
Even innocuous-sounding challenges — being happy, or having an invisible friend — go awry. And instead of resetting after every episode, Forrest’s calamitous outings roll into one another and compound his misery; he destroys his marriage, becomes estranged from his child, alienates all his friends, and accidentally causes the death of his ex-father-in-law.
In a sense, the show is pulling double duty by telling an ongoing story through disconnected outings. It may seem like the review challenges come first and dictate the arc of Forrest’s life, but they are always second to the larger story they want to tell. There have generally been two to three reviews per episode, a standard that has continued into this final go-round.
“We pitched out hundreds of different topics and subjects for reviews on little index cards and put them all up around the room. Then we talked about the story that we want to tell over the course of the season,” Daly explained. “And then we plugged in reviews into episodes, sometimes because we needed something energetic, or something that feels like it’s going to be physically challenging, or fun, or even something weighty to counterbalance something silly. But a lot of times we put specific review segments into certain episodes because we have an idea how it’s going to help tell a story over the course of a season.”
The pièce de résistance comes late in Season 2 when Forrest murders a man. At the beginning of the season, he had been granted two vetoes over particularly egregious requests and used one to decline the initial suggestion that he take someone’s life. But when it was suggested again, and he was out of vetoes, he felt he had no choice but to go looking for someone to kill. That it wound up happening in self-defense was beside the point; Forrest went looking for confrontation because he is unhealthily devoted to a job that is destroying his life. He’s a slave to its rules because he either believes in the sanctity of the mission, is a terrible decision-maker, or both.
“Forrest has a very clear sense of rules and his own idea of right and wrong, and his ethic for this work that he does,” Daly said. “He’s very sure about all of that. Where he goes disastrously wrong is that he puts all of that first, and his own safety and well-being comes after that — as well as the happiness of the people around him and their safety. He does seem misguided and blind in various ways, and he seems kind of dumb, so he deserves to be punished — but only to a certain extent.”
By the beginning of the third season, Forrest has alienated just about everyone; he catfished and humiliated his ex-wife, had sex in front of his child on an airplane, spewed racial epithets at his black neighbor Gene, and even paralyzed his producer. He’s all alone and on trial for the murder that occurred near the end of Season 2. And yet, he continues to star in his show at all costs — including taking on a challenge that asks him to live life as Helen Keller, despite the fact that he has to testify in court.
The result, as seen in the second episode, is an insane, insensitive display of blindly grasping, moaning, and humiliating himself in the courtroom. It’s a careful balance, trying to keep his antics from being too offensive, but the catch is that the joke is always on Forrest.
“The model that we talked about a lot is our little person episode, in Season 2 we really tried to not make a little person is the brunt of the joke there,” Daly said. “The joke is really Forrest and how blind and stupid he is, what a poor job he does of enacting it, and him coming to all the wrong conclusions. So that’s what we tried to do with Helen Keller, and we put in the episode that Helen Keller was an author and a public speaker and she met presidents and she shaped the way people think of disabilities, and she was extremely competent. It’s only Forrest, in trying to be Helen Keller, who is absurdly and completely incompetent.”
The Keller idea had been kicking around since the beginning of the show, and only now was it deemed time to use that card. Most of the challenges in Season 3, in fact, are based on cards generated during the pre-production of the first few seasons; there were just too many unused good ideas to bother coming up with new ones.
“In our first episode, Forrest has to put a pet to sleep, and that is a card that has definitely been on our wall since Season 1,” Daly said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a card reading ‘Helen Keller’ has been on the wall since Season 1 as well.”
With fewer episodes in this third and final season (Comedy Central won’t say how many), there are still many challenges left unused, but Daly looks back on the series, as it finishes his run, fully satisfied.
“We definitely have a box of review suggestions and they might make me laugh if I thumbed through them again,” he said. “But I ended this season feeling like we put it all out on the field and did the best stuff.”
In other words, Daly gives Review five stars.