Adieu, Review: Andy Daly on Forrest MacNeil’s Last Stand

Comedy Features Andy Daly
Adieu, Review: Andy Daly on Forrest MacNeil’s Last Stand

“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” An ancient Chinese philosopher named Lao Tzu wrote that hundreds and hundreds of years ago, but I am pretty sure he had Review in mind when his quill met parchment (or whatever). Perhaps that’s a reach, given, you know, the basic boundaries of time and space, but there is a group of people out there—too few of them, I’m afraid—who I imagine would agree with me: people who wholeheartedly love Comedy Central’s most unjustly overlooked show. Review burns awfully bright indeed.

The excellent Andy Daly (Comedy Bang! Bang!, Eastbound and Down, so many more) stars as Forrest MacNeil, a life reviewer who, for his show within Comedy Central’s, throws himself headfirst into each random viewer-submitted experiences he is faced with so as to critique it. Forrest’s dedication to his work is all-consuming: just three episodes into the series, he reviews divorce by ending his happy marriage. By episode six, he commits unintentional vehicular manslaughter while reviewing road rage; two episodes later, he is party to the kidnapping of a cop while reviewing running from the law. Review—a critically beloved cult hit, and the starring turn that comedy journeyman Daly has deserved for so long—is as utterly deranged as it is brilliantly innovative, and even if it aired for a Simpsons-esque amount of time, it would end too soon.

The cold, hard reality is that Review’s third and final season kicks off at 10 p.m. EST on March 16, and judging by the episodes available to critics at this time, the series is going out in as fantastic a fashion as its adoring fan base could hope for. In honor of Forrest MacNeil’s last stand, we caught up with Daly to look back on Review’s run, getting his take on everything from the show’s legacy to his favorites of Review’s reviews (which you can compare to Paste’s here).

Paste: How does it feel, whether personally or professionally, to be on the cusp of this third and final season of the show?

Andy Daly: Personally, it feels very exciting to be out there banging the drum about these episodes that we made, that I’m really proud of and that I think people are really going to like, and there’s something exciting about something coming to an end. I think I have totally positive feelings about it. That might change once the final episode airs, and it really is like, “Oh, that’s the end, goodbye!” I’m sure I’m going to hear some expressions of disappointment and sadness. [laughs] And I have a feeling that moment is going to be kind of emotional, as it was when we were shooting the show. It was fun in the planning phases, but when we were on the set and actually saying goodbye to James Urbaniak for the last time, saying goodbye to H. Michael Croner for the last time, and then the worst moment was when they disassembled the set. It’s like, “Oh, man, that’s really over.” So maybe it’s just something about me psychologically, that in theory, I really like the idea of something coming to an end and putting a period at the end of the sentence and moving on, but actually seeing the period hit the page, it turns out to be a little bit fraught. And from a professional point of view, I’ve been—knock on wood—making my living in this business for 22 years, and for all 22 of those years, I have constantly thought it’s about to end, so this changes nothing. I have no more or less faith than ever that I will work again.

Paste: How do you think you’ll remember your time on Review, and do you have a sense of how the show will be remembered?

AD: I will remember this time, I think, as stressful and as the hardest I’ve ever worked, and sort of taking a surprisingly long time. This has been, now, a six-year-long experience to make these three seasons of the show and to put them out in front of the public. But I will also remember it as the most creatively satisfying and personally positive experience to get to surround myself with friends who are hilarious and people whose work I respect so much, and to all be working toward making the best show that we can possibly make with a network that just let us alone to do whatever we wanted. And then to have these scripts where I’ve loved every one of them, and then to get to come to set and do the script when it feels right, and improvise when it feels more fun to improvise, and to have a director in Jeff Blitz who pushes me and gets more out of the material than was even on the page, and then to have editors who make what we shot even better in the edit bay … I mean, all of that is incredible, and then on top of that, to put it out into the world and to have it be responded to in the way that it’s been responded to, it’s like a dream come true, and there’s no sensible reason to believe that anything that great will ever happen again, professionally. [laughs] I hope it does, but, you know, can’t count on it. So I will definitely look back on it with a mix of, like, “Man, I worked so hard, but man, was this satisfying.” And then as far as how the show will be remembered, who knows? You know, I think it kind of depends on how available it is. Hopefully it’ll all pop up on Amazon Prime for free, or on Hulu for free, or YouTube someplace, because that really seems to be when people discover things, when they don’t have to actively pay for each episode or find it on Comedy Central’s app because they’re already a cable subscriber. I’m hoping to put a DVD out there and promote it, and I’m hoping that it just becomes as available as it possibly can be, because that will shape whether people discover it and whether it gets remembered at all, so I’m hoping that that happens.

Paste: I personally think that it’s going to be smiled upon by history as an underappreciated kind of gem that we—this is why we can’t have nice things, that more people didn’t see it when it was active.

AD: [laughs] Yeah, I hope so. I do think it’s kind of evergreen, in a way. You’ll be able to watch it years from now and not feel like it’s too dated. So yeah, I hope it has a long life.

Paste: How would you describe the tone of this new season? Did you and the writers feel that there was more freedom to be outrageous while you were in the home stretch?

AD: I mean, I think we felt total freedom altogether this season. Comedy Central just let us end the story however we wanted to end it. They gave no notes, no feedback, they said, “Just go,” which is incredible. And so our desire more than anything was to tell a concise, clear, fun story with a clear end point that we liked, and to make it something that would be satisfying for somebody kind of binge-watching all three seasons at once in the future, and to really make it satisfying for people who’d been with the show up to that point and fans of the show. So that was our desire. Tonally, I don’t think we necessarily thought too much about outrageousness or tone. We were really focused on our story and our character and what would be a fun way to go out.

Paste: As you look back now on the show, are there any particular episodes, or reviews, or even just individual moments that you’re particularly proud of?

AD: God, there’s so much that I’m proud of with this show. I mean, I’m so proud of “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes.” That episode is amazing. I’m so proud of that, I’m so proud of “There All is Aching,” and I’m so proud of the way that season one ended. Season two—when I look back on season two, it’s kind of amazing to me that we outdid ourselves. We made the best show that we knew how to make in season one, and then in season two, we, I think, made a better show, and I kind of marvel at that, to be less than humble. [laughs] But I love the way our second season starts. I love the episode that has “Giving Something Six Stars” and “Public Speaking,” that’s an episode I love so much. I love the “Conspiracy Theory” episode, I love the cult. Crazy orange hulk storming the cult compound is an absolute favorite of mine … There are so many moments. And then, of course, killing Fred Willard in outer space [laughs] is a favorite moment. Yeah, there’s just a ton of them, and I’m also really, really thrilled with the way that we ended things in season three. I think we had a great idea for how to end the show, and then the writers room managed to improve it by a lot. So I’m very excited.

Paste: That’s really exciting to hear. It’s funny that you mention “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes,” because I wanted to ask you about that. That episode seems to have become kind of a phenomenon just in itself. Do you have any particular memories from making that episode? Did you expect it to become this kind of outsized, popular piece of the show?

AD: Well, no. There’s a lot to say about that episode, actually, the making of it, because it shapes the series in huge and important ways. When we made the pilot for Review, Forrest was more of a jerk. He was kind of a psychopath, actually. The Forrest of the pilot was a guy who was taking on these assignments because he wanted to, and he took more pleasure in kind of meting out punishment on the world, and yes, he himself got punished too, but he was a little more of a bad actor in the world in the pilot. And Jeff Blitz—I brought Jeff Blitz on to help me run the show when we got picked up—and he said, you know, we knew we wanted to have Forrest divorce his wife for the show, because they did that in the Australian version and it’s very effective in the Australian version. So we knew we wanted to do that. Jeff had this idea that, for that to really have an impact, we had to feel like Forrest truly loves his wife, and would never have divorced her or hurt her if not for this show asking him to do it. And if that is true, then it means that Forrest is someone with a moral compass, and someone with some sense of values. And so, the fact that we knew we wanted the divorce segment to have a huge impact affected our whole conception of the character, and changed the show in huge and important ways. And then the other thing to say about “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes” is, it was originally scripted as “Pancakes, Divorce, Batman, Pancakes,” and we shot it that way and edited it that way, but it was 35 minutes long. [laughs] We tried to get that version of it down to time, and at some point our editor said, “I’ve got a different idea: What if we bump ‘Batman’ to the next episode?” And it kind of had this chain reaction that resulted in our delivering, instead of the eight episodes that Comedy Central had ordered, nine episodes. And it was the hardest decision in the world. It seems so crazy to take “Batman” out of episode three and put it into episode four, but it’s ultimately what we ended up doing, and I’m so glad we did, because it allows all of those segments to breathe and to not be cut down to this incredibly fast-paced form, and obviously people have responded to it so much. Whenever I read something positive about “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes,” I think, “Oh, it was almost ‘Pancakes, Divorce, Batman, Pancakes,’ it was so close to being that. I’m so glad it’s not.”

Paste: Were there any “white whale” sort of reviews that you and the writing team always wanted to try and find a place for, but were not ultimately able to?

AD: I don’t know about that. It’s hard to remember. There were definitely cards that kind of came off the back wall and onto the front wall for a little while, and then got bounced back to the back wall, but I do feel like we found room for most of the ones that we were really passionate about. I will say, I get asked that question frequently enough that I do have one from this season that I keep mentioning as one that got away, which was, as you’ll remember from “There All is Aching,” the original request was bubble baths—what are bubble baths like? And Forrest doesn’t get to review that, so we had an idea this season that someone would come and say, “Forrest, I feel so bad for you, you never got the chance to review bubble baths. What are bubble baths like?” [laughs] And so he would get to review it, and then our idea was that, one way or another, he was going to end up in the mental hospital anyway [laughs] … which is a great idea, but we just didn’t find room for it this season.

Paste: What’s next for you, and what, if anything, is next for Review?

AD: What’s next for Review is that I am working on trying to get a DVD made for seasons one, two and three so that it can travel all over the world and be appreciated by people any time they want to watch it. There are so many outtakes and even maybe pieces of that pilot that may be interesting to include on a DVD. So that’s kind of what’s next for Review. What’s next for me, I don’t totally know. I’m very interested in just being an actor on somebody else’s TV show. That would be great. I’m also interested in creating new TV shows. I have a few ideas that I’m kicking around. But the answer is I don’t know, and in the meantime, what I really would like is for my phone to ring with an incredible acting opportunity in a hilarious and brilliant TV show while I figure all the rest of it out. But I know from experience that that may not happen, and that I may have to create my own opportunity, which I am prepared to do, if need be.

Scott Russell is Paste’s news editor and resident Review reviewer. He’s on Twitter, if you’re into tweets: @pscottrussell.

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