Review: Season 2 of “Review” solidifies the show’s place in the current pantheon of great TV

Let’s get this clear up front: “Review” was one of my very favorite shows of 2014, and I was OK with never seeing another episode of it again.

There’s always a push/pull when it comes to the longevity of shows, with lots of interconnected elements having to come together in order to produce the “right” number of episodes/seasons. I put “right” in quotes since it’s a malleable, subjective concept: One person’s perfect single season is another’s ten seasons of “just fine.” There are no rules when it comes to this. For me, “Review” ended its nine-episode first season in a way that left me wholly and completely satisfied.

That season saw protagonist Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly) essentially reduce his life to ash in the name or reviewing “life” itself. This wasn’t a parody of critics per se, but rather a full-throated declaration that life lived at a distance isn’t much of a life at all. Sure, there were hilarious set pieces designed around in-show audience suggestions, but the emotional throughline is what made “Review” so special. Daly excelled at being the center of comic moments so awkward I watched between my fingers under my couch through my living room window while said couch was in the middle of the front yard. But he also suffused MacNeil with true pathos, which made his decisions in the season finale so cathartic. I’m not sure I cheered for anything as much as Forrest punching out his producer and seeking to experience life rather than review it.

Without giving anything away about the show’s second season (of which I’ve only seen the premiere, which airs Thursday July 30 at 10 pm EST), I remembered another aspect of this show that helps explain its continued existence above and beyond the mere fact that Comedy Central renewed it. Suffused into every scene is same thing that makes Lifetime’s current drama “UnREAL” so compelling: The delusional narcissism that nearly all of us possess. That’s the show’s secret weapon: If anything, Forrest isn’t an example of our worse impulses, because at least Forrest occasionally feels bad about the terrible things he does in the name of helping educate the masses. Forrest feels that not doing this show would be a disservice to humanity, even though the cold hard truth is that he’s as expendable as the rest of us. Recognizing that truth would be dropping the delusion, which is something he’s rarely capable of doing.

The majority of the pleasure of the premiere comes not just from the reviews themselves (which are great), or the surprise guest star (who is excellent), but two main narrative hooks that suggest a way for the second season to slowly fill in the gaps between then and now. The first hook is overt, and it baked right into the show-within-a-show concept. But the second is baked into the subtext of every interaction Forrest, co-host A.J. Gibbs, and the rest of the show’s fictional staff have. Things FEEL the same as last season, but there’s a palpable sense of unspoken tension that gives each exchange of dialogue a charge. Anything can happen at any moment, which gives the premiere the adrenaline rush of a thriller on top of the laughs it generates.

Again, I don’t want to go into specifics, but I will reiterate that seeing the show again made me glad that my initial feelings were proven false. I apparently did need more “Review” in my life, and in Daly’s hands, this show might find a way to plumb even more emotional depths this time around. Even if Forrest seems back to his reviewing ways, he’s not the same person he was a year ago. The way Daly provides glimpses beside the façade makes this not just funny television, but compelling television.

Having “Review” back on TV: Five stars.