How do you grade a clever comedy that might also be the saddest show on TV? Last night, Review took a profoundly dark turn, finally breaking its plucky host into a million, khaki-clad pieces. By the end of “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes,” Forrest MacNeil was basically a pasty-faced Rust Cohle. “These pancakes couldn’t kill me,” he says in 2014’s best unintentional True Detective parody, “because I was already dead.”
As the title suggests, much of the fun in “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes” comes from seeing how Daly’s character approaches eating “an upsetting number of pancakes” before and after a life-shattering divorce. In the earlier segment, MacNeil is only able to power through after a manipulative producer played by James Urbaniak intervenes, hilariously suggesting the act of gastronomic discovery “could be your penicillin, Forrest.” Later, with nothing left to lose, the challenge of eating 30 pancakes is just another meaningless experience in the life of Daly’s newly-minted nihilist.
The whole episode worked as a grim inversion of the standard hero’s journey, with defeat taking the place of triumph. In “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes,” MacNeil’s biggest victory is realizing he has nothing to live for. That leaves the comedy similarly skewed, with last night’s biggest laugh coming from watching a man cry in his car, destroyed by the romance of that classic love song, “Suck It.”
Review is so much its own animal, it’s hard to know how to judge it, or even what to compare it to. Production-wise, the show looks like some of The Onion’s deadpan newsroom parodies, but I’m beginning to think Review is closer to Louis C.K.’s short-lived HBO sitcom Lucky Louie. Another first project from a veteran “comic’s comic,” Lucky Louie’s unique format ultimately obscured the talent that would later win its star acclaim. Review feels similarly hindered by its unusual presentation, but the radically morose “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes” suggests a serious ambition for the show, one that might ultimately overcome these flaws.