It is as we feared: Thursday night’s episode of Review, Comedy Central’s most singular series, was its last, and if you haven’t seen it, you should stop reading immediately. (Here’s a courtesy buffer sentence.) Life reviewer Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly) loses everything he loves in Review’s grand finale, and we are left just as bereft by the sudden departure of this show. It was outstanding from beginning to end, an indelible work of dark comedy that deserves to go down in TV history. As Forrest puts it, it was “television’s only show.”
“Cryogenics / Lightning / Last Review”—the title of which tipped Comedy Central’s hand as to their plans for the show’s end, despite Daly and company’s commendable (and overwhelmingly successful) efforts to subvert viewer expectations throughout Review’s abbreviated final season—is an episode of television I will not soon forget. I have never seen a network comedy series cram this much brilliantly twisted humor, legitimately gripping suspense and absolute emotional devastation into 30 minutes, and likely never will again.
It comes down to this: Forrest has the chance to reclaim everything he ever held dear—his wife, his son, his home, love itself—and he throws it all away. He sacrifices himself at the altar of his show. He chooses Review.
This was inevitable—Forrest’s all-consuming dedication to his show has defined him from the series’ very start. But to see him offered a golden opportunity to redeem himself and willfully squander it is an emotional gut punch, one that hurts even more if you allowed yourself to hope it wouldn’t happen. “It had to be done, because I was put on the earth to do this,” Forrest declares after vetoing “Not Reviewing Anything Ever Again.” His love of his work conquers all.
That obsession is what propels him through two truly harrowing reviews to begin the episode. “Cryogenics,” as previewed earlier this week, finds even the fanatical Forrest hesitating, horrified by the “alarming enormity of this request.” A.J. (Megan Stevenson) urges him to reject it, like she rejected “Slapping A Stranger’s Ass,” reminding him once more that he has a choice. But while that would be true of any normal person, it isn’t true of Forrest. “I do whatever is asked of me, no matter what that is,” he reminds A.J. in turn. It’s his fatal flaw, the Achilles heel that turns this comedy show into a classical tragedy.
If the episode had ended after “Cryogenics,” all would have been well. Forrest writes final letters to his wife and son, then travels to Freeze At Last, a skin-rejuvenating cryotherapy clinic, foolishly believing he is about to be encased in ice for hundreds of years. When he is released, he is earnestly “astounded to be alive,” marvelling at all the futuristic technology around him—his reaction to a hands-free scooter (which I refuse to call a “hoverboard”) is especially priceless—before it occurs to him that his beloved family has surely died in the interim. In a moment of broken clock clarity that is all too fleeting, Forrest laments his “tragic mistake,” and once he realizes that his family is actually alive and well, and knocks on Suzanne’s (Jessica St. Clair) door, he has an epiphany—the epiphany he has needed to have since season one, episode one.
“There is nothing that I could possibly have shared with the world about being frozen that would have been worth never seeing the two of you again,” he tells her. “Nothing.” It’s an incredibly sweet moment, even after a second viewing. Suzanne has suffered for far too long at her insane husband’s hands, and it’s beautiful to see her reaction to this flicker of the man she married, as if it were the first ray of the rising sun spilling out over the horizon. She hints that, if Forrest can extricate himself from Review, all will be as it was.
That’s the ending that Daly says he, Jeffrey Blitz and the rest of Review’s writers had originally planned. But it’s not the one we get.
Even after his breakthrough, Forrest accepts his next review, “Being Struck by Lightning,” much to A.J.’s astonishment—A.J., by the way, plays a key role in this episode. She is us, hoping against hope that Forrest will come to his senses, only to watch as her hopes are dashed. Forrest acknowledges that his chances of surviving a lightning strike are “less than 100 percent,” crudely edits his letters to Suzanne and Eric (replacing all mentions of cryogenic freezing with lightning) and travels along with his interns to the nearest town with an active storm watch. This review is legitimately brutal to watch, as Forrest is hit by a bolt from above—“As my body convulsed with pain, it was clear that I was being killed by lightning,” he later narrates—and then breaks his intern Josh’s (H. Michael Croner) legs with the giant lightning rod to which he is attached. But even in these horrifying moments, like so many before them, Review still knows how to make us laugh. Looking back on this latest trip to death’s door in voiceover, Forrest recalls, “I thought of my family … and of my skeleton, which may have been on fire.” Against all odds, Forrest lives to see another day—and another review.
Review’s ostensible last review is where Forrest’s fate is finally sealed. He is stunned to see that his next review request is from “Suzanne in Los Angeles,” who asks him the one question he can never answer: “What’s it like to spend the rest of your life not reviewing anything?”
It’s a beautiful moment. “That’s love,” says A.J., and Forrest agrees. I could cry writing this.
Forrest is overjoyed … at first. And then he does what a good Reviewer would do, and consults with his producer. James Urbaniak has been outstanding as Grant since he first slithered out in front of the camera during season one, but this scene, in which Grant masterfully manipulates Forrest one last time into choosing his television show over everything else he cares about, is easily the zenith of his performance. Wheeling his way out of the shadows, Grant is slick as an oil spill, assuring Forrest, “This is how it ends,” before casually mentioning, “You could veto it, the veto booth is right there, but why would you?” Playing Forrest’s foolhardy belief in Review’s manifest destiny like a fiddle, Grant talks his host right back up onto the stage and into the veto booth, where Forrest sets fire to his last hope for a happy, well-adjusted life. It’s devastating, a moment as stomach-turning as anything on a prestige shock drama like Game of Thrones. It’s the Red Review.
Review’s true last review, which A.J. cannot even bring herself to summon up on-screen, has the uncanny quality of a bad dream, as if it is taking place on the darkest alternate timeline. Soon after accepting the review, “Being Pranked”—which, in a lovely real-world touch, is delivered by Phil Lloyd, who played host Myles Barlow in the Australian version of Review that inspired the American iteration—Forrest’s worst fear is realized: Review has been canceled, Grant informs him. Forrest goes ballistic, even threatening suicide, before acquiring the delusion that will see him through to the end of his show. “Grant’s prank was a true masterpiece of the form,” he says.
Forrest, laughing off his show’s disassembly as the elaborate prank that he is intended to review, watches as his staff moves on to bigger and better things. “What kind of a universe would be cruel enough to allow Review to be canceled right after I chose it over my family?” Forrest scoffs. “C’mon.” Forrest, the definition of a tragic hero, is unable to change his ways. He is trapped in a prison built of his own beliefs.
Review ends with Forrest, standing on an empty stage, surrounded by everyone who cares about his show as much as he does—alone with his own worst enemy.
He gives “Being Pranked” five stars.
Scott Russell is Paste’s news editor and now-retired resident Review reviewer. He’s on Twitter, if you’re into tweets: @pscottrussell.