Viewing the ‘Review’ that Inspired ‘Review’
Andy Daly’s near-perfect second season of Review just wrapped up, and while the show’s freshman year was a terribly smart, wonderfully unique brand of comedy, this latest year really focused on what made the show so compelling and took it to new heights. As Andy Daly’s Forrest MacNeil was put through the ringer physically, emotionally, and mentally — as he had arrows flung into him and penile implants inserted and de-serted — many of his transfixed viewers had no idea that this genius series was in fact a remake. That as Forrest MacNeil’s resolve was turned into a bloated carcass that was picked away at by the vultures of life, Myles Barlow had been through it all before, with the scars of hindsight to show for it. Let’s check in with the original series and explore how these two identically premised series have strayed from each other, and what each distinct Review brings to the table.
Review with Myles Barlow, which aired from 2008-2010 on Australian TV and was masterminded by Phil Lloyd (who also played Myles) and Trent O’Donnell, premiered six years before Comedy Central’s equivalent debuted. Right down to their title sequences and scant set-ups, both Forrest’s and Myles’ Reviews immediately feel similar — this isn’t some loose adaptation that’s taken someone else’s idea and tweaked it around until it’s something else entirely. But it’s when you start looking deeper into things that the fundamental differences between the programs begin to show.
The immediate differences come in the form of the support staff that Forrest has on the US version of the series. He has a co-host, so to speak, in the form of A.J. Gibbs (think of a more enabling Vanna White), his stalwart producer Grant, and a litany of other figures from his life that play a presence in his reviews, whether they be members of his family, or the interns of his television show. With Myles, he has no sidekick and there’s not a glimpse of the production crew behind the show. In this distinction alone it immediately feels like one of the major changes Daly and his team made was to have the program be more about the host, rather than the show itself. This might feel like a minor difference, but it goes a surprisingly long way in terms of how these shows operate.
Otherwise, Myles has the same addictive personality and impulse control issues that Forrest does, and he’s still very much a needy man who uses these reviews to create a persona for himself. The main vehicle for humor in Myles’ case is in his professional sterility to the topics that he reviews — there are definite shades of Arrested Development’s Wayne Jarvis in him — as he refuses to let emotion get in the way of his job. This is the major difference between Myles Barlow and Forrest MacNeil, as Daly’s character is crippled by emotion and can’t help but let it get in the way. For instance, in the latest season of Forrest’s Review, the concept of vetoes was introduced. It’s a novel idea, but one that would never be needed on Myles’ version because he’s such a consummate professional and wouldn’t have a problem doing any of these things (Forrest opts to use a veto on “Murder,” for example). He’s compartmentalizing his job. It’s because Forrest is incapable of doing this and requires a safety net that the vetoes were installed in the first place.
To build off of this point, both Reviews largely have different topics that they’re putting under the microscope, but there is a small percentage of overlap, with “Murder” being one such area. In Myles’ Review, the subject comes up on the second episode and he barrels in headstrong. In Forrest’s case, “Murder” is a carefully placed review that falls towards the end of the season and is an integral piece in his breakdown. Such a severe review is approached with much more trepidation here. We see Forrest living with the trauma that he collects with each passing review, as it forces his family structure to change, and him to become increasingly homeless, but at the end of Myles’ reviews regardless of how bleak things have gotten for him (which is to say quite bleak at times) they’ll cut back to him in the studio, no worse for wear and a relative blank slate. Bring on the next one! Forrest’s father runs through the gauntlet of what his son has been through in a pretty perfect example of just how deeply his reviews get under his skin:
Boy, it’s been a crazy year, hasn’t it? You picked a fight with that guy for absolutely no reason and got shot and nearly died. Broke up with that nurse in a way that she fired a gun into the house. Then you burned down the house and you broke up with another girl in a way that she fired an RPG and blew up another house. Then you asked me to fire a bunch of arrows at you — and I did! Then you got lost at sea for three months.
I never gave up hope. Through it all, I told myself, ‘Forrest is a good boy, and he always has been.’ But now a man is dead and you’re charged with killing him. What are your values, son? Did I raise you to have values where it’s okay to kill somebody? I hope not.
In the end, Myles’ show definitely feels like the more callous of the two, having a deeper interest in shock moments rather than pushing characterization. In spite of this, Forrest’s Review might be the more upsetting series due to the utter devastation that happens to his life. Myles’ depicts more of a sociopathic vision that isn’t interested in the repercussions of the lives that he ruins, whereas Forrest seems to be constantly wrestling with his conscience.
In that way both shows are almost equally dark but in entirely different ways. One presents a man who is harsh, cold, and uncaring, whereas the other gives you a man who has become broken by the world. Myles uses his show as license to be an asshole, whereas Forrest is made his show’s bitch. Watching a show that has you rooting for this punching bag to get his shit together is a wholly different experience than watching a series where someone exploits society in some way. There’s a moment in Myles’ Review where the character says, “Ignis aurum probat, miseria fortes viros,” which is Latin for, “Life is not a bowl of cherries.” While this might be the perspective of this colder iteration of the series, Forrest might be more inclined to tell you that life’s a bowl of chocolate covered cherries, you just have to watch out for the rotten ones.
The ways the actual reviews are handled on each show also differs. Each review of Myles’ manages to escalate to a crazy degree, going to places that you’d never expect. This perhaps is best illustrated in a review of Myles’ where a simple request about wanting a telescope is interpreted into a review on “Voyeurism,” which then is expressed by Myles getting obsessed with reality television and falling in love with one of the contestants (and then creating his own Big Brother-esque scenarios to keep tabs on her post-elimination).
Myles will often extrapolate a broad review topic like “Risk” into something like smuggling heroin, going far beyond what is necessary of the review — or in turn, getting wildly distracted by something else in the review that ends up informing his score in the end. In another review of Myles’, “Self-Belief”, Myles opts to try to swim to New Zealand, which is clearly not the first conclusion that you’d jump to. Forrest’s misunderstandings and detours tend to be more literal, like when he interprets “Sleeping With Your Teacher” as sleeping with your teacher, rather than his own (he doesn’t even have a teacher).
There are a few instances where review topics come up on both shows and it’s usually an enlightening look at two equally insane takes on something. “Murder” is a good example. In Myles’ case the turn of the review is in the form of his sloppy handling of the body disposal (leading to escalating cases of murder due to pesky witnesses), not the psychological trauma that follows. Even when emotion does briefly come into play here, Myles feels too distant. We don’t know him like a person like Forrest when he commits this crime, and so filtering murder through television speak is the engine of humor here, rather than the blackest of black comedy route that Forrest’s review takes.
Forrest’s take on “Addiction” is rather short sighted, with him getting entirely preoccupied with cocaine. Myles’ version manages to tell a much bleaker story, and it’s perhaps entirely due to the character’s distance to us, and the series’ tendency to go for excess and boundary crossing rather than focus on its host. Myles’ chooses to take on all addictions, including smoking, alcohol, sex, and even exercising. All of these vices end up canceling each other out and putting Myles in a ridiculous space that’s much more exciting than if he were simply taking up hard drugs on a whim.
The final way in which Forrest’s take on the concept differentiates itself from the original program is the way in which the seasons build to something larger. Forrest’s review topics find a way to beautifully dovetail together every episode, not only connecting disparate ideas, but also linking the trauma that Forrest is going through (perhaps best exemplified in the “Cult/Perfect Body” episode where it all crashes down around him), whereas with Myles’ show he feels like a new person with each additional review.
We get a glimpse of there being a few more callbacks and some minor dot connecting in Review with Myles Barlow’s second season, but it’s a slow effort and never of much significance. The connections in Forrest’s case, on the other hand, have devastating consequences. The end of the first year of Myles’ Review even sees him getting arrested, yet we still cut back to him in the studio at the end of it all. There’s no cliffhanger ending pursued (when there easily could be, with Myles waiting for bail or a trial between seasons), but this is however the most frazzled that we’ve seen our host. He’s even unable to string together one of his trademark run-on analogies and he “fails” at his review, but it still feels like the show could go a lot deeper with all of this. After all Forrest’s version of Review ends up taking place briefly in prison entirely because of the ramifications of what his reviews have gotten him into. Myles seems to regenerate as if he’s a Terminator or something. That is until the series’ final episode, which marvelously upends all of this. Not only do we see review segments finally linking together, but Myles is at last forced to confront his consequences — and boy do they pile on, to the point that Myles refers to his existence as a living hell. The series ends up being one long indictment of everything that Myles’ done, and yet, he still seems to be the consummate professional that the show has accustomed us to.
Review with Myles Barlow is an incredible program that goes to unexplored territories while establishing a unique voice in comedy, but Andy Daly and company’s remake somehow becomes an even more subversive take on an already subversive idea. The announcement of a third season for Forrest’s Review has yet to happen, but as you brave the excruciating Review drought, why not quench your thirst by binging on the program that made it all possible? Forrest’s version of Review seems to only now be realizing its true potential and I can’t wait to see how they twist the formula and whittle away at Forrest’s life even further. In the mean time, Review with Myles Barlow is a more than acceptable way to fan your review flames as you wait for our oblivious host to return… or what’s left of him.
Review with Myles Barlow: 4/5 Stars
Review (with Forrest MacNeil): 4.5/5 Stars
Reviewing Review and Review: 5/5 Stars