29th Aug2015

‘Review 2×05: Catfish, Haunted House’ Review

by Gretchen Felker-Martin

“There is one final capstone to place on this monument of dishonesty.”

‘Catfish, Haunted House’ is relatively low-key for an episode of ReviewIt’s not because Forrest somehow has a normal set of experiences. In fact, he loses his life’s savings, perpetrates fraud on his ex wife, and is stabbed and knocked down the stairs by the matriarch of the Chinese family who purchased his and Suzanne’s old home. The mild tone comes from something much more sinister: Forrest is getting used to this. In retrospect this monstrous acclimation has been coming since ‘Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes,” a day when Forrest’s life was both arrested and blown wide open by the twin horrors of grief and soul-crushing apathy. “These pancakes couldn’t kill me,” Forrest dully narrated, “because I was already dead.”

Sooner or later everything had to start looking like pancakes to Forrest, a man so pathologically cheerful that not even repeated demolitions of his life can permanently crack his protective facade of denial. So now getting stabbed is just part of going into the office. Getting drunk in your old house and sobbing your ex-wife’s name before vomiting in what is now a stranger’s bed is putting in your due diligence. Somewhere in the back of his mind Forrest knows this show will be his tomb. If he’s doomed he might as well enjoy himself as he has been throughout season 2, reaping the sexual, financial, and social benefits of his bizarre position of power while denying all subjectivity and personal involvement. “One of us is a life-reviewer who has to go out and have this experience and share special, universal insights about it,” he blusters to Tina (whose development as an agent of chaos is a true delight to watch), “That one is me.”

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The catfishing segment carries Review‘s usual deft touch when it comes to the skin-crawling quality of Forrest’s myopic belief that his deceiving his ex-wife with an elaborate psychosexual mindgame is a universal experience. “I was now in the trickiest part of catfishing,” he narrates near the segment’s end, “where you have to find the handsome man whose picture you used in your fake profile and persuade him to Skype with your ex-wife.” Forrest’s cluelessness is a bottomless pit, but it’s the anticlimax that really sells the joke. Forrest pulls off an impossible con which leaves Suzanne somewhat emotionally bruised and himself distraught, beggared, and having utterly failed to learn anything about catfishing or himself. ‘Catfish, Haunted House’ also takes pains to remind viewers that not only are Forrest’s experiences far from universal, they’re contained within a bubble a good few standard deviations away from the peak of the curve.

Lucille’s tortuous spelling out of the “HTML web address” for Google, interspersed with Forrest’s inane repetition of “yep” and “got it,” is a thing of agonizing beauty. Tara Karsian as Lucille is monumental, her disdain for Forrest a living, breathing presence in the room at all times. She’s also, given Grant’s and Tina’s naked sociopathy and Josh’s slacker dimwittedness, the most functional and with-it member of Team Forrest. Oof. Forrest himself is reduced to sleeping on the floor of his office alongside his father (Josh and Tina have squatters’ rights on the couch). Mr. MacNeil, for his part, is a genuine sport. He compliments Lucille’s Google skills, learns dance moves from Tina, and even participates (with brutally sharp insight) in building Forrest’s catfishing persona. His contribution, “He’s known heartbreak, but has no baggage,” is an arrow right to the heart of everything his son isn’t.

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The show’s back half doesn’t have anything as cold as Grant’s “That was a terrific investment” or as grindingly obnoxious as Forrest’s imbecilic recollection about the ever-popular Charles Sweddington, but it does have a grotesque and intriguing vein of introspection. Forrest, challenged by an ancient crone whose friends fear her death due to a belief that her “awful ghost will haunt them” to spend a night in a haunted house, spends an uneventful night in a decaying ruin until inspiration strikes. He leaves his dad, again just unbelievably game to go on an adventure with his reckless and terrifying son, and heads across town to the house he once shared with Suzanne.

Forrest’s overwrought narration as he wanders the house, left empty by its vacationing owners, is a beautiful send-up of moments like Walter White fondling his meth manufacturing equipment at the close of Breaking Bad (Sean T. Collins has a dynamite piece about this: James Urbaniak on Review and the Rise of Funny Antiheroes). Review has no nostalgia in its heart for the fruits of Forrest’s labors, such as they are. His desperate commitment to his insane life’s work earns him nothing, not even gravitas or bragging rights. “What if I walk into that bedroom and Suzanne and I are in there?” he asks himself, pondering alternate realities before drunkenly claiming that he, in fact, is the ghost haunting the house. It’s pure wish fulfillment, Forrest warping the terms of the review request so he can wallow in his own misery. The sole moment of realization comes at the episode’s close. Forrest, bandaged and on crutches after his climactic knife fight, pans staying in a haunted house, but he offers up some uncharacteristically insightful advice.

“We create phantoms,” he says, “to avoid thinking about our own frightening, or sad, realities.”

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