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TV That Matters: Genre-bending Daly finds true comedy in the surreal

By John Thomas Columnist

I absolutely love it when a television show plays with genre conventions by ostensibly representing itself as a certain kind of half-hour, then revealing itself to actually be another genre in disguise. So you could make the argument that I’m exactly the kind of sucker ripe for Andy Daly’s new program, “Review.” The “Mad TV” alumnus stars as Forrest MacNeil, a critic who reviews, in the words of the pilot, not “books or movies but life itself.” Maybe I’m in the minority, but while I was excited to see how it all worked out, when I first heard about the show it seemed like it might work better as a sketch within a broader framework rather than a show that had to stand on that premise and that premise alone. My caution was never validated in the premiere episode, which is online now and comes to Comedy Central this Thursday. Instead, I found what appears to be a promising new sitcom wrapped in the aesthetic conventions of some of Comedy Central’s recent man-and-a-screen shows like “Tosh.0” and “The Jeselnik Offensive.”

I was genuinely surprised to not find a studio audience’s laughter in the background of Daly’s first bit, but I probably shouldn’t have been. He’s a man of a thousand hilarious masks, as evidenced by his frequent appearances on “Comedy Bang Bang” and his brand new podcast “The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project.” Forrest MacNeil is a character, not a dramatized and accentuated version of Andy Daly himself. That immediately set the show apart from every other live action program currently airing on Comedy Central. Even on shows like “Broad City” and “Workaholics” we’re presented with iterations, zanier, darker, sure, but iterations nonetheless of the actors that populate their world. By doing away with the studio audience that’s expected to accompany a show with such artificial trappings as a stage in a studio, and by employing a progressing narrative that deals with the world outside of said studio, Daly has crafted a program with the surreal dint of “Nathan For You” with the potential for a deep, hilarious mythology a la, say, “South Park.”

That being said, most of the laughs I found myself having were from the realization that the show was going in such a wonderfully strange and inventive direction, not the actual jokes themselves. Especially in the first segment, where Forrest reviews theft; and before the show’s deal has really been fleshed out, I found myself pretty silent. I was enjoying the episode still, but kind of in the same way that you would enjoy a kindly old janitor recounting his tales of youth. Not laugh out loud funny, but charming and humorous nonetheless. Still, by the time Forrest got around to reviewing the Prom, which incorporated the… um… skills he learned while reviewing theft and addiction, I was just about rolling on the floor. It would’ve been easy for the writers to situate Daly’s character as some creep who just wanted to have sex with a teenager, but instead we see Forrest as just a guy who truly wants his date, and himself, to have a great time. He goes about that by stealing a teacher’s wallet and buying a whole bunch of cocaine. But his heart’s in the right place. The after-credits shot of Forrest’s wife driving him, in tears, to rehab yet again finally solidifies what this show is about: a madman’s effect on the world around him when given license to do just about anything he wants.

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