Watching Review always brings with it a mixed bag of emotions, and that’s never been truer than in the unsung Comedy Central series’ third and final season, currently airing Thursdays at 10 p.m. EST. Forrest MacNeil’s misadventures in life criticism present, as ever, a distinctive blend of stomach-rupturing humor and jaw-clenching horror, but there’s far more in play here than even that signature mixture. As Review draws to a close, the sting of its coming absence laces every laugh, and even the surprisingly heartwarming hints of resolution that present themselves along the way are just a reminder of its impending ending. Parting is such sweet sorrow, and I give it no stars.
All that is to say that I give “Co-Host / Ass-Slap / Helen Keller / Forgiveness” many stars—this is the kind of extraordinary episode that makes me sadder than ever that Review is on its way out, incorporating the key elements that have made this show tick throughout its brief but brilliant run, while also achieving new and necessary heights. If I had to point to only a handful of episodes as evidence that Andy Daly, Jeff Blitz and company have elevated cringe comedy to an art form, this would be one of them. And it’s only fitting that, in its final installments, Review reminds us why we started watching (and couldn’t stop) in the first place.
“Co-Host / Ass-Slap” essentially functions as one review, and it’s one to remember. In a lovely stroke of Review’s patented meta self-reflection, Forrest is forced to critique the experience of acting as his own show’s co-host, taking a backseat to his wingwoman A.J. Gibbs (Megan Stevenson) as she embarks on a review all her own. One of Review’s only weaknesses is its use (or lack thereof) of A.J.—although Stevenson’s character is an invaluable presence on the show, outside of a select few reviews (“Revenge” comes readily to mind), she isn’t given any chances to shine—“I’ve never thought much about what A.J. does, or ever spoken to her about her duties,” Forrest realizes while aimlessly wandering the set. The ensuing review within a review, “Slapping a Stranger’s Ass,” finds A.J. behaving like a decent person and ultimately putting a personal relationship (not to mention her own dignity and self-respect) before the review she is assigned, which confounds Forrest utterly—it runs counter to his deepest, most unwavering belief: his belief in the paramount importance of his work. It is, though unsurprising, immensely satisfying to see Review challenge the very bedrock of its protagonist and premise in this fashion, flipping the script even on its way out the door.
… So of course, all that intellectual investigation is immediately, gloriously undercut by the episode’s most sinfully funny review, “Helen Keller.” Calling to mind the guilty pleasure of season two’s “Being a Little Person,” this review again finds Forrest crudely approximating a disability to discomfitingly hysterical effect. Daly’s physical comedy chops are on full display throughout the segment, from his blindly shuffling his way off the set after beginning the review to his copious use of jazz hands as a way of sensing his surroundings—I laughed so hard I struggled to breathe while watching Forrest, called to testify in his own ongoing murder trial while outfitted in a wig, dress and sensory-deprivation helmet, groping and sniffing his way around the witness stand and attempting to climb onto the judge’s bench. Review’s underrated supporting cast shines here, as well, from Review intern Josh (H. Michael Croner) screaming, “Helen! Stay in your office!” in Forrest’s face to his attorney Daisy’s (Julie Brister) hilariously inept attempts to make him look good on the stand. And the cherry on top of it all is another Review rarity: a political Parthian shot in the form of Forrest’s exoneration, which he explains was on account of it being “almost impossible to convict someone who looks like [him] for using a gun in America.” It’s brutal and true, just like Review itself.
“Forgiveness” is where the episode ends, looking ahead to the all-too-soon conclusion of this show. The stakes here in season three have been clear from the beginning: Either Forrest is going to reject his self-destructive devotion to his show and somehow win back the love of his family, or he’s going to go down with the ship and allow Review to destroy him. Thus far in its final season, the show has hinted there’s genuine reason to believe Forrest will redeem himself, but more than likely it’s a mirage, and he’s headed towards the fuck-up to end all fuck-ups. This push and pull of possibility is manifested utterly by “Forgiveness,” which finds Forrest bumbling his way through a meant-to-be-conciliatory discussion with his beloved ex-wife Suzanne (Jessica St. Clair) that devolves into an extended look back at his many previous fuck-ups. Then, having failed to earn her forgiveness, Forrest seeks that of his producer Grant (James Urbaniak), whom he paralyzed in the aftermath of the season two finale. It remains to be seen whether Forrest will finally extract his head from his ass, and even more disconcertingly, it remains to be seen how many more chances he will have—to my knowledge, it is still unclear how many episodes this final season of Review will run. But there’s no question whatsoever as to whether Daly and company are making them count.
Scott Russell is Paste’s news editor and resident Review reviewer. He’s on Twitter, if you’re into tweets: @pscottrussell.