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Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Andy Daly's 'Review' Continues Comedy Central's Hot Streak

Comedy fans have known Andy Daly to be one of the funniest writer/performers in the business for over a decade now. After stealing scenes in countless mainstream movies and cult shows alike, Daly was finally given his own TV show earlier this year by Comedy Central. Review, which he stars in and co-created, wrapped up its first season last night, and it actually managed to exceed my already high expectations for what to expect from a show from the mind of Andy Daly. It's just a shame it took this long for a network to give him his own series.

Review is presented as a fictional television show that goes by the same name, hosted by Andy Daly as Forrest MacNeil. MacNeil is a critic who, instead of reviewing traditional things like food, books, or movies, reviews life experiences themselves, taking the viewers along for each experience and earnestly rating it on a five-star scale afterwards. For example, the first episode alone sees MacNeil trying out stealing, cocaine addiction, and attending a high school prom, all in the span of 22 minutes.

Review is based on the 2008-2010 Australian comedy, Review with Myles Barlow (created by and starring Phil Lloyd), but Daly and company manage to make the show their own. Daly co-created the US version with Charlie Siskel, whom worked with Daly a decade ago as the co-creator of Comedy Central's Crossballs, and Jeffrey Blitz, who also directed Review's entire first season and is best known for directing the movie Rocket Science and spelling bee doc Spellbound.

For Review, Daly has surrounded himself with an ace writing staff: Andy Blitz and Kevin Dorff from Late Night with Conan, Carol Kolb from The Onion, Gavin Steckler from Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous, and Leo Allen from Comedy Bang! Bang! and Jon Benjamin Has a Van. His supporting cast is first-rate too, with Playing House's Jessica St. Clair the perfect foil as his put-upon wife Suzanne. James Urbaniak, Megan Stevenson, Tara Karsian, and Michael Croner add a lot to the show too as MacNeil's conniving producer Grant, cheery co-host A.J., sarcastic assistant Lucille, and juvenile intern Josh, respectively. Unlike a traditional sitcom, Review only uses members of its supporting cast as needed (not everyone appears in every episode), which frees the show up for all sorts of storytelling possibilities.

Forrest MacNeil arrives fully-formed as a character from the second Review begins, and the reason for that is that Daly has been playing guys like this for ages now, in comedies like Eastbound & Down, Semi-Pro, and Reno 911!, just to name a few. Daly's go-to is playing straight-laced, chipper, Midwestern-ish neighbor types with a catch: as Daly describes it, "Lurking just beneath the surface is total madness."

Daly perfected playing this type of guy years ago, but he expands the character to a leading role in Review, making MacNeil more three-dimensional than his predecessors. As absurd as MacNeil's behavior gets as he continues to throw himself into more outlandish situations for the sake of his TV show, there's a strong basis of humanity underneath him. Like some of the most effective comedic characters ever, Forrest MacNeil is cartoonish and odd on the surface, while being wholly human underneath. It's through his ongoing plotline with his wife Suzanne, which came to a head in last night's finale, where most of Forrest's much-needed realistic side comes out, and it manages to ground the show while also justifying some of his wackier behavior.

The bulk of Review's humor derives from Forrest MacNeil's extreme dedication to his job. No matter how silly the life experiences he's suggested by viewers are (in one episodes he's asked to eat 15 pancakes, get a divorce, and then eat 30 pancakes), MacNeil has vowed never to back down, completing everything his viewers ask of him and then earnestly describing each journey afterwards. As he told his producer Grant, "Even if I beg for help, don't let me out." MacNeil's commitment to his job allows for the plot of each episode to escalate quickly, making Review one of the fastest-paced and least predictable shows on TV.

Despite MacNeil's escapades all having the same setup, they each feel completely different from each other, which is a feat in and of itself, and each review takes him into a new world. MacNeil's possibilities are limitless too, making Review a malleable show that can go just about anywhere. Conan O'Brien has said that his favorite character to write for during his stint at The Simpsons was Mr. Burns, partially because Burns's extreme wealth makes it so that "There is literally nothing you can't do with Mr. Burns." Forrest MacNeil is the same way, in that he has the resources and money of a television show behind him, allowing him to, quickly and without explanation, accomplish anything he wants. Over the course of the season, MacNeil buys two commercial tickets to space and pays $70,000 to have dinner with Ashley Tisdale; stuff that ordinary, non-wealthy TV host characters wouldn't be able to do.

Review is also capable of pulling off serialized storytelling that's more intricate than what you see on most TV comedies. Episodes call back the plot of at least two previous episodes without dwelling on backstory too much so that new viewers can jump in easily at any point. The inter-episode plotting is also impressive and grows stronger as the season goes on, peaking in last night's "quitting your job"-themed finale. While each of the first couple episode's segments are mostly unrelated, by the season's end, Daly and his writers are able to tell a more structured story that deftly weaves through each episode's disparate-seeming segments.

Over the last few years, Comedy Central has slowed its notoriously-quick trigger finger, being more patient with new shows while gradually building up a roster of some of the most critically-acclaimed series on television (Key & Peele, Nathan for You, Inside Amy Schumer, Kroll Show, and Broad City, just to name a handful). Review sees this trend continue with the network adding yet another sharp, unique comedy to its lineup.

Prior to Review, the only complete work written by and starring Andy Daly had been his excellent 2008 comedy album Nine Sweaters. Review proves to be just as funny and special as Nine Sweaters was, with Daly's comedic sensibility proving more than strong enough to carry an entire series.

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