For every Parks and Recreation, there's a Better off Ted. For every Archer there's a Frisky Dingo. And for every Veep there's a Review, which is this year's iteration of the best little comedy on TV that you just aren't watching yet. Frankly, Review's lack of viewership isn't the most baffling surprise in the world. The Comedy Central series joins shows like Stella and Andy Richter Controls the Universe (and even The Leftovers, if we aren't limiting ourselves to comedy, here) that prove themselves to be critical darlings if not a bit ahead of their times, whose formal impressiveness fails to translate to any kid of reliable viewership.
For a show like Review, though, this might be the most fitting outcome of all. After all, it was always fundamentally a study in tragedy: Forrest MacNeil repeatedly destroyed his own life all by himself, his unwavering commitment to the increasingly dangerous and destructive reviews submitted to him repeatedly causing him to tear asunder just about any good thing that made its way into his little sphere. So it seems fitting that Review's commitment to doing something a little bit different and a lotta bit dark would perhaps be exactly the thing that kept it from gaining the traction it deserved.
But you know what? I'd rather have 2.33 seasons of something as brilliant as Review than nothing at all, and it says quite a lot that not only did Comedy Central avoid canceling the show after its first season — as they are wont to do — but that they allowed it to depart on its own terms, with this (bizarrely) truncated, three-episode final season.
I don't know that the first two episodes of this final season constituted the sharpest material Review has served up in its three years, but the series finale was a perfect capper for a darkly original and wickedly funny little show. Review's season finale trades in escalation in the best way, with each review upping the stakes and pushing Forrest in increasingly dangerous directions.
The first review is of being cryogenically frozen, which Forrest approaches with his usual mixture of self-aggrandizement, resolve, and thorough misunderstanding. Booking himself an appointment at a skin rejuvenation center that uses "cryogenic" technology, Forrest heads in under the impression that he has signed up to be cryogenically frozen until technology advances sufficiently for him to be safely thawed. Falling asleep in the chamber for 30 minutes leads Forest to react with wonder and awe to the normal outside world that he now mistakes for the far future. It's an excellent sequence, and Forrest's misplaced sense of bravery as he heads in to be frozen for who knows how long play perfectly to Andy Daly's strengths as an actor.
When Forrest visits his wife Suzanne, however, the show's writing staff kicks the darkness up a few notches. As an audience, we're right there with Forrest, caught up in his excitement over having not actually been frozen for the better part of a century, and we forget the other perspectives and lives involved in Forrest's decisions. The resultant effect is a very effectively delayed understanding on the part of the audience. Suzanne is immediately incredulous, and her first question is "You mean you thought you were going to be frozen for an indeterminate amount of time and you did it anyway?" This snaps the audience right back into the understanding of the flip side of Forrest's situation: he had once again made a decision that involved inflicting serious emotional trauma on the people closest to him, and seemingly without having considered that fact at all.
It's an impressive representation of everything that makes Review as crushingly good as it is: Forrest has yet again failed under the weight of his own myopia, his inability to consider how his actions might affect the people around him translating into his failure to understand how his actions will in turn affect him.
Forrest's second review is dealt with a little more quickly. Suffice to say, he gets asked to review being struck by lightning, so he does it — yet another thing that could potentially rip him away from his estranged wife and son — gets fucked up, and breaks both of his intern's legs in the process. No big deal.
Finally, Forrest's third review comes in, and the dominos are set up. Suzanne writes in and asks Forrest to ask what it would be like to never review anything at all. She tells him straight up that she'll disappear from his life forever if he doesn't accept his review, but his guilt over paralyzing Grant and his conviction that his work is important render him easily talked into vetoing the review, which he does. Brilliantly, his next review involves recounting the experience of getting pranked, and each domino in Forrest's life falls one by one.
First to go is Review itself. Not too terribly long after being assigned to review prank victimhood, Forrest is told by Producer Grant that his show has been canceled, and everything falls perfectly into place. Forrest naturally assumes that his show's cancellation is part of the prank, this bit of happenstance feeding perfectly into his well-developed denial. Forrest truly believes that Review is an important show, as though people are tuning in to achieve a deeper understanding of the idiosyncratic bullshit review submitters make him do as opposed to simply wanting to see a puppet on a string, made to do self-destructive things that nobody in their right mind would do.
As such, Review ends on the most perfect tragic note, with Forrest's blind commitment to the mostly-insignificant work he does driving him yet again to torch everything he holds dear, perhaps this time for the very last time. Forrest fails time and time again to realize that the only people he actually has any effect on are himself and those in his immediate sphere. His estranged wife and son have moved away without telling him where they went, and the show that repeatedly cost him his most precious interpersonal relationships has been canceled, leaving Forrest stuck in denial as the world just sorta moves on without him.