Everybody’s a Critic
03.05.14 10:45 AM ET
Yelp’s Now on TV & It’s Hilarious: A Review of ‘Review’
You know the type. Actually, maybe you don’t, because who are these people?
The people who review.
Who are these people who go on Yelp and write essays detailing every aspect of their experience at the local frozen yogurt stand? Who put the effort into publicizing the dust on the lampshade of the new Marriot that opened in Topeka on Trip Advisor that Woodward and Bernstein put into blowing the lid off the Watergate scandal? They exist. We’ve read their many (many) words. But who are they?
Whoever they are, wherever they are, they’re the prime examples of a culture that has become obsessed with reviewing: review a movie on Rotten Tomatoes’ user board, give real-time 140-character feedback about this TV show on Twitter, rate an Uber taxi experience on a scale of one to five stars. We voraciously consume reviews of TV shows and movies before checking them out, religiously look at Yelp ratings before setting foot in a restaurant, and, as much as we abide by that notion “everybody’s a critic,” hold our favorite professional ones in hallowed esteem.
Comedy Central’s new series, Review, which debuts Thursday, acknowledges that obsession and that notion—we love reviewing, and we’ll review anything—and spins it into a comedic challenge. What would be the most ridiculous thing for someone to review? Turns out, it’s life.
“The whole conception of it is that there’s this guy who was an academic and a critic who was so pompous that he is now taking on the most important things in the world, not ‘boring things,’ like movies, films, art, and all that,” says Andy Daly, the comedian playing the so-called ‘guy.’ “But life. Actually reviewing life itself.”
Review is high concept, yes. But it’s also incredibly clever, and really funny.
These aren’t insufferable, pompous takedowns written by someone who has the time and energy to whine for 1,000 words about the buffalo chicken wings at his neighborhood Applebee’s. Those reviews are the worst. These are madcap, down-the-rabbit hole reviews of the wildest life experiences, shown documentary style by a fictional critic as he lives through them. These reviews are funny.
We follow Daly’s character, Forrest MacNeil, as he fields fictional requests to review assorted life experiences. We watch as his attempt to review the experience of stealing spirals: a production intern gets shot by a security guard during a botched try at robbing a bank. We watch as the gumption with which Forrest throws himself into reviewing the experience of addiction ends with his wife tearfully driving to rehab for cocaine dependency. The show becomes pleasingly meta, as the vices he reviews—racism, gluttony—in turn destroy his life, which we see unravel piece by piece in the footage of each subsequent review.
The show is fictional and Forrest is fictional. But given our own addiction to reviewing, it’s easy to stifle the laughter over the show’s intentionally absurd premise of reviewing life and acknowledge that a series in a similar vein as Review, or a critic maybe modeled loosely after Forrest, could actually exist in real life. Well, could maybe exist in real life.
“I think if the person approached it the way that Forrest does, where he doesn’t reject any topic that’s suggested to him and he does it full-on no matter what the consequences,” says Daly, “they’d be in jail or dead really fast.”
Fair. But, at the very least, the footage would go viral.
The writers’ room for Review doubles as a breeding ground for deranged sadism, according to Daly, in which everyone goes around the room pitching ideas of sordid situations in which a guy like Forrest would invariably find himself in over his head. Some ideas, however, were just too far.
“One topic we really tried to crack but couldn’t do is what it’s like to get breast implants,” Daly says. “In execution, it seemed mean to the transsexual community. Maybe we’ll figure out a way to do it.”
Enjoy the mental image of Andy Daly with breast implants you have right now.
Still, and weirdly, there’s something undeniably satisfying about watching Daly’s Forrest MacNeill, with all of his best intentions, having his life upended as his attempts at reviewing go awry. Perhaps part of that is gratification that the ridiculous concept itself is an atomic bust. But a large part of it, probably, is that despite his congenial enthusiasm, there is something about Forrest that just makes you want to punch him in the face.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but that urge is unshakable. Daly has some idea of why.
He’s created a backstory for Forrest—one that isn’t shared on the show but will be shared right now—that the guy is a disgraced film critic. “He got to a certain age and could not stay awake for the length of films anymore, and therefore had to plagiarize his reviews,” Daly says. “So he failed at that big thing he thought he was good at. Now, instead of slinking down to something lower than where he was, he decided to shoot for the moon and do something more important than he used to do, which is review these life experiences. And he doesn’t want to fail again so goes for it with total commitment.”
Of course, a series can’t succeed with a protagonist who is solely punchable, so there is something kind of endearing about Forrest’s commitment, as portrayed by Daly. As ludicrous as it is for someone to think that he is the one who is uniquely qualified to review something like life, Forrest approaches the task from the same point of view that we all presumably do when we take to Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes and Twitter to offer our own opinions about something.
“Conceiving Forrest, we talked a bit about reviewers who aren’t just reviewing movies to put their thoughts out there, they’re reviewing it for a public service,” Daly says. “You’re not doing it because you like the sound of your own words, you’re helping your peers.” (Though, knowing a few “reviewers,” that could be a debatable theory.)
“For Forrest reviewing life experiences, that feeling is much more intense—not ‘should you go see this movie,’” says Daly, “but ‘should you be racist or not.’”
It’s this reviewer’s opinion—take it or leave it—that that right there is the appeal of Review.