Review may just be one of the best TV shows ever made. Based on the Australian series Review with Myles Barlow, Review, which aired from 2014-2017 on Comedy Central, stars Andy Daly as Forrest MacNeil, a professional critic who takes write-in suggestions from his audience about life experiences he ought to review. These range from fairly ordinary (“Pillow Fight”) to bonkers (“Leading a Cult”), and Forrest does them all.
The effect of these reviews, however, begins to pile up over the course of the show’s three seasons, as Forrest’s dedication to the show destroys his life. The tagline for the show’s final season was, “He might die,” and each episode was a new source of anxiety, given that there was no official episode count announced. Every episode could be the last.
Since the show’s finale — which took the story to new, existentially terrifying heights — it’s been hard to find, but it’s finally available to purchase on DVD. In celebration of the release, Polygon spoke with Daly about the series, including the ideas for reviews that never made it out of the writers’ room, the only real injury Daly suffered on set, and whether we’ll ever see Forrest MacNeil again.
[Ed. note: Spoilers for the entire series of Review follow.]
Polygon: When you started working on the series, did you have an overall plan?
Andy Daly: No, not at all. In the very beginning, all we really knew we wanted to do was to have Forrest’s experiences accumulate on him, which to me always felt like it was going to end. If all of the things he’s doing are actually affecting him, at some point he will become terribly injured, or he will die, or he’ll end up in jail. It always felt like, before too long, all of that stuff had to happen. So I had in mind that it might be a limited series, but I was curious to see what would happen and where we’d go, whether we would even get a second season.
The way we ended that first season, where Forrest quits, felt to us like, “Yeah, that’s probably the end of the show. But we didn’t kill him, so if Comedy Central does come back, we can get another crack at it, we can reboot.” But when we first made the pilot and first sold the show to Comedy Central, it was a little bit different than what we ended up making. The pilot was a little bit more of Forrest being a bad person in the world, and more reveling in his transgressive behavior. I think that was a little bit more in Comedy Central’s sweet spot. And then once we started to really think about the series, we started to make it a little more emotionally heavy, and we started to realize that this concept of wish-fulfillment that the network was always asking us for, like, “Let’s see him fulfill [his] wishes, we want to see him enjoying it,” was just something that felt wrong every time we tried it.
A perfect example is the orgy episode [“Road Rage; Orgy”]. That was one where we said, “All right, let’s get this one to Comedy Central, we’ll have Forrest get deep into the world of orgies as a form of wish-fulfillment.” But then, in our hands, treating it seriously as a topic, having an emotional story through it for this guy, the last word you would use for the orgy segment is “wish-fulfillment.” My point is that we felt like we were not going to get a second season because of what we had done to this show. Happily, we were wrong, but we thought we’d better end it, because I thought this was all we were getting.
When did you find out you were getting a second season?
The timing is complicated. There was a weird thing where we shot and edited the whole first season, and we were racing toward a premiere date. Then we were told that the premiere date was going to be pushed by nine months. I think it had to do with marketing budgets, or something like that. So it was just nine months of sitting around, waiting for the show to come out. Then the whole first season aired, and then a month or two later, we started to have conversations with Comedy Central about, you know, “Can we have a second season, please?” That was a long time between seasons 1 and 2.
Then season 2, we wrote it, we shot it, we edited it, it aired in full. And then it was another two or three months before there was any kind of conversation about, “Can we get another one?” And that was a conversation where Kent Alterman, the president of Comedy Central, said they’d looked at all the metrics for another season, not just the ratings, but the amount of social media shared, whatever. And he said that, for the Review skeptics at Viacom, none of the metrics made the case, but, “I want to give you a chance to end it your way.” We were given the option of doing a feature to end it, or two one-hour episodes, or three half-hour episodes, and we chose the three half-hour episodes, just because that’s the format Forrest had always used, and why break out of that?
You’ve mentioned there being a more Comedy Central-esque original pilot. Does that still exist anywhere?
It does exist, and we wanted to put it on the DVD, but there were all these legal issues, because there are actors in that that are not in the series, there were legal complications. We were able to clear one segment. So on the DVD, there is a segment called “Apologizing” where Forrest goes to apologize to Rich Fulcher, playing a character similar to the one he played in season 1. Forrest goes to make a public apology for something he’d done to him in his past, and it goes terribly awry. That’s the only segment where I was injured in any real way. I got poked in the face with a prop taser in that segment, and I still have a little scar from it. A tiny little one, on my chin.
It’s been a while between the last season and the DVD release. Was the process to set this up pretty protracted?
Yeah, it was crazy. As soon as I heard we were going to make a third season of three episodes, and we were going to end the series definitively, as soon as that was settled, one of my first thoughts was, “Oh, that can all fit in one DVD set, and it would be great to have it all in one place for people, because it is going to be this narrative story you can binge-watch all at once.” What a perfect thing to put out on DVD. And so I sent out an email, I think it was in April of 2016, to a Comedy Central executive I knew, that was like, “How do we do this?”
Since then, so now it’s gone on four years, the project has been passed from team to team to team. I have in my emails, like, hundreds of emails about this, because over the course of four years, Viacom has been reorganized at the corporate level again and again. It kept happening, and they were like, “All right, this is the home-media division, and these guys are gonna take care of you.” And then I wouldn’t hear from them for a little while, and I’d email again, and they’d say, “Oh, actually, it’s a different team now. Those guys are not here anymore.” It happened, like, four times, and it’s partly because, as you can imagine, home media is a shrinking part of Viacom’s service, like all physical media.
In the end, it was a group in New York that has always been putting out Nickelodeon DVDs, so they’re all about Paw Patrol and everything, and this was their first non-kid product. The team I’m talking to has always put out kids’ stuff, and then it’s suddenly like, “Okay, now we’re supposed to also put out Comedy Central’s content? All right, what is this?”
Do you re-watch the episodes at all, or watch your own work in general?
Like a lot of actors, I don’t particularly like to watch my own work, but I have had to make an exception for Review, because it’s the only show I’ve ever worked on where I’ve been involved in the editing process. I’ve watched every second of this show again and again and again in post-production, so I’ve come to a point where I’m happy to watch it. Also, it was so well directed and edited that they managed to make my own performance into something I’m happy to watch. In this process, we did commentaries for three of the episodes, so I went back and watched those.
And then I watched them again in the room with the Blitz brothers. Me and Jeff Blitz and Andy Blitz all did commentaries together, so those three episodes I have revisited, but not the other ones. And of course I revisited all the DVD extras, all of the alts and extended scenes and stuff like that, which was a lot of fun, going back to see that stuff that didn’t make the cut.
Speaking of alternate or deleted scenes, in another interview you spoke about shooting a totally dramatic version of Forrest’s divorce scene. Did that make it onto the DVD?
Well, here’s the crazy story. This was part of the insanity of putting this DVD together, was finding the raw material, all of that footage, which was stored on hard drives. Some of it had to be found in a storage facility in New Jersey on a hard drive. It was not tucked away for future DVD release in any way at all, it had to be tracked down. Unfortunately, all of the season 1 raw footage had corrupted files or something. So that is not on here, and it doesn’t exist anywhere in any way that can be seen, unfortunately, maddeningly. Yeah, we only have memories of it. There was an edit of the divorce scene that made no attempt to be funny.
Are there any other reviews or scenes that you shot that way, where there’s just no comedy in them, that didn’t end up making it to the final cut?
I think that was the first one where the network said, “Um, could it be funnier?” There were some in the writing process that were a bit more like that. We had a handful of segments that we wrote that we didn’t shoot, and some of them were because the answer was, “Is it too sad?” One in particular was “What’s it like to solve a murder?” And the joke, of course, was that Forrest descends on this household where this couple has the unsolved murder of their teenage son from 15 years ago. They’re having all of their grief reopened by this nincompoop who showed up and said, “I can solve the cold case of this murder.” The network was like, “This one is a little too sad.” So we ditched it.
What was the threshold for what was funny-torture and what was just pure torture?
Well, obviously, making him eat so many pancakes is the right kind of torture, to see somebody suffer what would be very enjoyable at a reasonable number, but is extremely unpleasant at this quantity. That conversation particularly came up when we were figuring out our landing in season 3. We wanted to push the envelope, and we knew that it was ending, so we knew we could do something extreme, and we wanted to have something terrible happen to him and really tell him, “You should leave this job,” so when Suzanne shows up and gives him the lifeline of saying, “What’s it like to not review anything anymore?” he’s got all the reason in the world to do it.
We had a lot of conversations about what could that terrible thing be? It ended up being “What’s it like to get struck by lightning?” which just felt, in the room, like a funnier life-threatening thing than a shark attack. Or for a while, we had “What’s it like to get hit by a car?”
To tell you the truth, the main reason we stopped talking about that one was because, interestingly enough, if you want somebody to get hit by a car on screen, you hire a stuntman who literally, you know, gets hit by a car — there’s not a lot of movie magic to it, he will get hit, he’ll be padded out, and he knows how to take it, but he’ll get hit — and you have to pay that stuntman $10,000 per hit, is what we were told. You’re for sure gonna need to hit him at least twice, maybe three times to get it right, so we were kind of like, “No, there’s gotta be a cheaper way to really send the message to Forrest, “You’re going to die if you keep doing this.”
We did feel like some of the other things we talked about weren’t going to be fun. Another one we wrote up was, “What’s it like to have open-heart surgery?” So Forrest had to find a doctor to perform a completely unnecessary open-heart surgery on him. So of course, that’s a warehouse, back alley, corrupt physician. But then we said, “Ah, I just don’t think it’s gonna be all that fun to see Forrest getting carved open in a filthy warehouse.” It was just a question of, “What’s fun to see?”
Are there any other reviews you rejected as impractical?
The other one that comes to mind is, we had an early version of “Quitting,” which is from the season finale in season 1, where it was basically the exact same trajectory, except instead of a coffee cart in the lobby of a building, it was a factory. And it was specifically a factory where a lot of the workers had autism, or something like that. The work of the factory was very well-suited to people with particular special needs. So Forrest was brought in to interact with these people, and he’s really loving it. He’s kind of realized, “Oh, yeah, there’s a place for everyone in the world, and this here, doing this, is my place.”
On the page, when Forrest quits, it called for a whole factory floor of people to rise up and run out with him, which would have been really exciting, but at that point in the season, it was like, “Guys, we don’t have the money for a factory full of employees.” So we basically told the same story on a very limited scale, with just one other employee.
One minor detail is that, in season 3, we really loved the idea that Forrest doesn’t have a car anymore, he can’t afford a car, so he’s taking public city buses everywhere. We just wanted to shoot B-roll of Forrest waiting for the bus, sitting on the bus, to put over narration, and have little scenes of him with the lizard and whatnot. That was just one of those things where our line producer said, “Why don’t we just not ask or answer the question of how he’s getting from place to place, because it’s expensive to get a bus and a bunch of people on it.” There were little things like that along the way.
How did you structure the show, in terms of which reviews would go in which episodes, and how they’d serve the narrative arc of the story?
Our process was that we started with the narrative arc of the season as best we knew it at that point. We had a system where we used yellow cards on a bulletin board to say, like, “Here’s where Forrest gets divorced,” or, “Here’s where the house burns down,” “Here’s where he breaks up with the second girlfriend,” just to put these kind of guideposts along the way, building to where we wanted to get.
Then we talked about, “What is the review that makes it funny for him to burn down his house or destroy his father’s house? What’s a good review to do that with?” That was the next step, was to assign segments to the big events of the season. After that, it was just a process of staring at a wall of cards and trying to mix reviews that sounded enticing, that had that kind of wish-fulfillment idea in the title, at least, with reviews that might have sounded more mundane, or obviously sad or painful. We always wanted to have a mix of, if you’re gonna look at the three topics in the TV Guide — not that anyone reads TV Guide anymore — that they wouldn’t all sound unappealing, they wouldn’t all sound like punishments, that there’d be at least one in there that sounded like, “Oh, I can’t wait to see a guy go through that,” vs. how it actually turns out. There was a lot of that.
What review was the hardest to break?
It was a lot of hard work in the room. People would be surprised by how much of our days were spent laughlessly thinking through the level of reality and what we could believe. There was a lot of talk about whether Suzanne would ever take Forrest back. There were just tons of conversations about, “What would we buy these characters doing?” I guess I would say that last season of three was maybe the hardest to break, because we had left Forrest in serious danger of going to jail for murder in season 2, so to figure out a way to resolve that, and then set him up for this rescue attempt by Suzanne, all felt like a very delicate house of cards with not a lot of room. We had 66 minutes, basically, once you add up the running time, or even less. I’d say that last little seasonette was the hardest thing to break, probably.
How finite is the ending to you? Have you considered revisiting Forrest?
Yeah, I’ve talked to Jeff Blitz, who directed every episode, and ran the show’s writers’ room with me. He and I are always talking about a new show to do together. I think we’re on our fourth idea, we’re always kicking something around. At various points, one of us will say, “What about bringing back ol’ Forrest MacNeil and seeing what he’s up to now?” We’d love to do it, to be honest. I don’t know how things like that get done, how exactly it happens. But I’d love to do it. In fact, I’ve had a few specific ideas about what Forrest might be up to, but I shouldn’t spill them. I mean, if anybody ever expressed an interest to us to be a home for Forrest MacNeil, I think Jeff and I would both jump at the chance.
I read that you have the Forrest costume hanging in your home closet. Did those clothes come from your own wardrobe to begin with?
When we were making the pilot, we had a costume person helping us figure out the wardrobe, so the answer is sort of yes and no, because everything we looked at, something was wrong and not quite, not exactly there. At that time, it was a joke among people who know me that I always wore J. Crew khakis and a light blue shirt, and people would make fun of me that it looked like I worked at Best Buy all the time. In my own life, I often wore white sneakers at the time, and at a certain point, I pitched that for Forrest, not even thinking, not even aware that it was already a joke that that’s what I wear all the time.
I thought, “You know, I think this character would wear khakis and a light blue shirt.” I did end up putting together an outfit that was already like what I wear. In fact, as I’m talking to you right now, I am wearing the exact same pants that Forrest wears. So yes, yes and no. The clothes are kind of mine.
But the Forrest MacNeil outfit that was given to me at the end of production is hanging in my closet. I have not touched it. But it did occur to me at some point that I wear those pants anyway. I maybe should just raid that costume and put those pants into regular circulation. But I probably won’t. But the costume is there, ready. Ready and waiting.