Comedy Central’s ‘Review’ is a Merciless Indictment of Capitalism

The second season finale of Comedy Central’s Review ended with Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly) — a dedicated “life reviewer” who hosts a show also called Review — accidentally tossing himself over a bridge into a river, pulling his producer, Grant (James Urbaniak), along with him. But there he is in the third season premiere, in his trademark tan jacket and khaki pants, welcoming us to another round of high-stakes criticism. “I believe that I am alive today so I can continue to do this extraordinarily important work,” Forrest declares.

It’s an ironic interpretation of his fate, considering Forrest has allowed the show to take over and destroy his life. Past challenges have resulted in divorce, the death of his father-in-law, and, in the previous season, a murder charge. And yet Forrest continues to wring philosophical meaning from meaningless, self-destructive challenges, convinced that his duty as a critic supersedes all other responsibilities or desires.

It’s easy to see Review, which returns for its third and final season on Thursday, as a comment on the soul-crushing, exploitative work that goes into producing a reality-TV show, like UnREAL or The Comeback. But it might be more useful to view the show — TV’s most underrated comedy, and one of its most underrated shows, period — as a grand indictment of capitalism itself, a beast that you live to feed until the moment it eats you.

In the new season, Forrest continues to act in ever-irrational ways in the name of professionalism. His first user-submitted suggestion comes from the viral marketing team at Westchester, California’s Neato Taquito, which challenges him to try their new “Locorito.” He soon discovers that by the time the suggestion made it to air, Neato Taquito has gone out of business. But the assignment, Forrest asserts, is “a perfect example of the work that my life was spared to do,” and he persists, eventually purchasing a six-month-old burrito off a hoarder he meets through Craigslist.

Of course, the challenge is meaningless now that the restaurant it was meant to promote no longer exists. But that’s no impediment for Forrest, who will justify anything in the name of his work. Like Nathan For You’s Nathan Fielder (the character, not the comedian himself), Forrest is a lonely man whose obsession with his job barely masks his social isolation. Nearly every review brings him back to his ex-wife (Jessica St. Clair), who finally explodes, “I have a review for you, what’s it like to leave me the fuck alone?”

But while Nathan For You — another brilliantly odd Comedy Central spoof — feeds on the reactions of the show’s non-actors, who believe they’re taking part in a business-makeover series, Review’s cringe-inducing comedy always comes at Forrest’s expense. He’s now on trial for murder (“which resulted from last season’s review of killing a person, in which a person was killed”), and yet every court appearance overlaps with a new review that he, of course, prioritizes. After vomiting on a juror, Forrest sums up the Locorito challenge as, “An inauspicious beginning to a rather serious legal proceeding, I’m afraid, but also an illuminating start to our new season!”

In another similarity to Nathan For You, Review banks on the audience’s familiarity with the lexicon of reality TV; each episode is presented as an episode of the show-within-a-show, which leads to hilariously ironic contrasts between the scene we’re witnessing and the way Forrest chooses to narrate it. It’s one of the most effective aspects of Review, and right now, the most relevant — watching something patently absurd while a white man in a suit describes it in the most innocuous terms.

With his bland professor look, cable-news-inflected voice, and mad dedication to a job that is literally ruining his life, Forrest embodies a corporatized world taken to its illogical conclusion. When a viewer throws him a bone by suggesting he review “making your dreams come true,” he interprets it literally, by reenacting a dream he had the night before. Eventually he acknowledges that the viewer probably meant for Forrest to realize an aspiration “rather than reenact the pointless meanderings of a sleeping brain.” But he soldiers on with a smile on his face and confidence in his voice as his world burns around him.

 

Review Season 3 premieres Thursday, March 16 at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central.