Andy Daly’s “Review” is secretly the antihero-TV satire you’ve been waiting for

Comedian Andy Daly’s stand-up as different characters is amazing, but at first I wasn’t sure what to make of his Comedy Central show Review at all. He plays this really square TV host who “reviews” different life experiences: going to the prom, addiction, space travel, having a best friend, orgies, eating pancakes, all kinds of things. At first you think it’s gonna be this comedy in which someone makes a major production of doing things in a very stiff, social-anthropology, insider-playing-at-outsider way. Which is indeed the basic approach.

But what ACTUALLY happens is that instead of treating each “review” as a separate thing, there’s continuity between all of them. The magical comedy reset button you’d expect them to hit after, say, the character gets addicted to cocaine, overdoses, and goes to rehab, never gets hit. The experiences build one on top of another. So even though he never acknowledges it except in one brief fit of self-pity while eating an enormous stack of pancakes (don’t ask), you slowly watch him destroy his life and the lives of everyone around him. His marriage ends. People get killed. All under the rubric of this very high-concept mockumentary show.

In other words, this is a satire of New Golden Age of TV Drama antihero shows hiding in plain sight. It takes the basic “man ruins all he cares about in the name of something that makes him nominally freer and more powerful” structure of the genre and plays it for deliberate laughs. Instead of a meth empire or a mafia family or a double life, he commits his bad acts in the name of the television show that chronicles them. He’s Walter White, but without the sense that there’s anything tragic about him — he’s just an oblivious faux-smart buffoon. It’s a satire of the middle-class middle-aged white-male entitlement and privilege that all the big dramas treat as the stuff of life. And it’s unbelievably funny.

The season finale airs tonight, and in the meantime every episode is available in its entirety with no ad breaks for free on YouTube. You can watch the whole thing in the time it’d take you to watch a 2 1/2 hour movie. GO.

3 Responses to Andy Daly’s “Review” is secretly the antihero-TV satire you’ve been waiting for

  1. Dan says:

    Thanks for a great insight into this show! A similar arc plays out in The Onion’s web series Porkin Across America. And now I want to you to write a piece on the ‘reset button’ vs continuity and how their presence or absence in an ongoing work encourages comedy (fun?) or tragedy (seriousness?) (especially in longer-form works like comic books)?

    • That’s an interesting question, but I think continuity and comedy, i.e. whether or not something is one, are two separate issues. Within the context of comedies I’m generally pretty skeptical about whether this is the proper venue for continuity-based storytelling in which characters grow over time. Characters in comedies are joke-delivery mechanisms first and foremost, or at least they oughta be; to the extent they’re well-developed and interesting that’s to make them better at that job, not an end in itself. I look at the personalized love with which audiences and critics treat characters on the various big acclaimed network sitcoms of the past decade and just scratch my head — I can’t imagine wanting to learn lessons about life and love from a sitcom. I just want to laugh, generally at someone else’s expense. (The one exception for me was Scrubs, and I have no idea why. I think because every episode was “a very special episode” with some kind of moral at the end, there was never this sense you get from other shows where it’s like “we like to laugh here, but now it’s time to be serious about how much we really mean to one another.” Scrubs was just always the same consistent blend.)

      One of the things I thought was brilliant about Review, and I tried to get at this in this post by asserting that there’s nothing tragic about Forrest MacNeil, is that it avoided this mawkishness. Yet I’ve still seen Alan Sepinwall, for example, talk about the character’s tragic arc, and seen people respond to the last part of the finale like it was deeply moving, while I thought it was intentionally making a mockery of the idea that something deeply moving was possible in this context.

      • Dan says:

        re: Sitcoms – that’s generally my feelings towards them as well – at first pass I can’t think of any long-running comedies that did more with their characters than move them around in relation to each other? I wonder how that ties in to maintaining a comfortable, easily recognizable status quo for casual viewers and/or production constraints (and does the former impact comics? where the latter I guess shouldn’t really). As you pointed out about this season of GOT, it’s in some ways a show about a completely different family from when it started, and that willingness to change things up (kill people off?) is a risk but one that seems to be paying off for them.

        Talking about continuity and reset buttons and status quo leads me to wondering about the often debated use of devices like dream sequences/timetravel/paralleluniverses and how they do or don’t impact narratives/characters…

        Lastly, your reaction to Forrest’s finale was closer to mine, and reflecting on it through your lens of satirizing our fave anti-heroes has even got me thinking back on Walter White and my reactions to watching Don Draper’s trip unfold, and my willingness to ascribe (varying) degrees of tragedy to them. How different are they from Forrest really? Beyond the format of the shows they are in?

        Thanks for all the great writing and commentary!
        (I’d love to read you review Justified someday)