01st Aug2015

‘Review 2×01: Bare-Knuckled Brawl, Blackmail, Glory Holes’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“The destruction of my life was anything but pointless.”

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With those words from ever-optimistic host Forrest MacNeil, the exquisite train wreck that is season 2 of 2014′s surprise hit, Review, gets underway. Forrest is back and as full of bluster and forced good cheer as ever, convinced that his having shredded his personal life on broadcast television has inspired viewers to truly live. Any Daily sells Forrest as a robot constantly forcing itself to smile through the accumulated misery of a hundred miserable, avoidable mistakes made in full knowledge of the fallout. Seeing that Forrest has lapsed back into his manic belief in his show’s mission rather than pursuing the moment of clarity he had at the end of season 1 is truly and hilariously crushing.

Forrest’s attempts to insulate himself from further harm somehow make the whole mess even sadder. He begins his return to television by showcasing the veto button, a tool which allows him to skip over reviews he deems harmful or impossible. Forrest, though, has forgotten the central conceits of his own show. First, it’s clear that A. J. longs for Forrest’s death or incapacitation (and another chance to host Review) and won’t hesitate to tweak his ego in hopes that he’ll accept more dangerous reviews. Second, every question, whether banal and workaday or apparently full of whimsy and vinegar, is a potential rathole directly into insanity.

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Take ‘Bare-Knuckle Brawl,’ Forrest’s first review of the season. It starts out innocent enough with Forrest traipsing around town in a childishly pugnacious pose and narrating in frustration, “…everywhere I went, perfectly decent people were going about their lives and failing to provoke a righteous pummeling.” Finally, Forrest takes getting cut in line at the ATM as an excuse to clock a guy. While he shakes his injured hand and remarks how much it hurt him to punch someone else, the guy panics, draws a gun, and shoots him three times.  Then, while your ears are still ringing and the shooter is screaming “Yes, mom, it happened again!” into his phone, Forrest starts narrating his own two-month coma, his grueling rehab, and his love affair with his nurse, Marisa (Allison Tolman). A sketch comedy, to which Review owes its skeleton, would end there. Review doesn’t.

“No amount of painkillers could anesthetize me from what I would have to do next,” says Forrest as he prepares, based on a review request, to blackmail the new love of his life. Unable to dig up dirt on anyone else, Forrest leverages Marisa’s habit of stealing prescription medication from dead patients in an attempt to extort her for money he doesn’t need. His visible misery and discomfort every step of the way, along with his superhuman ability to compartmentalize his gonzo reviewing from his personal life, do little to assuage the chaos that follows. “Our relationship was in trouble,” he narrates without a trace of irony after trying to extort Marisa in bed leads to her cutting off contact with him. The whole mess finally comes to a head with Forrest and Marisa wrestling over yet another gun before Marisa is dragged away by the police, utterly ruined. Watching Forrest willfully destroy the tiny spots of hope that manage to worm into his life is like watching a castaway mournfully puncture his own life raft: it might be unbelievable, but it’s impossible to look away.

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Little flourishes of continuity like Forrest’s shooter showing up in the glory hole segment cement Review‘s willingness to hold viewers’ faces up against the diseased banality of daily life, one idiotic assignment piling on top of the next until the inevitable collapse. It’s thrilling to see the showstill hitting in its weight class, and if the joke in the ‘Glory Hole’ segment (Forrest doesn’t know he’s getting blown by a man through the titular hole) is a little thin, the episode is still Review at its cruel, bleak, pitch-black best. Season 1 took the modern anti-hero drama and ripped it apart from the inside, and season 2 looks as though the walls are about to get a fresh coat of blood. I’m Gretchen Felker-Martin, and welcome to Reviewing Review.

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