There are many excellent things about the second season of “Review.” In fact, there are so many that it’s difficult to know how to even start. Last week’s installment, “Buried Alive/6-Star Review/Public Speaking” might have been this season’s “Pancakes/Divorce/Pancakes”, which is to say its signature (if not actual “best”) episode of the season. Rather than having exhausted its premise last season, as I feared, the second season of “Review” has in fact found a seemingly inexhaustible supply of new terrors to unleash upon Forrest MacNeil. Indeed, the longer this show continues, the horror is actually amplified.
To understand how this is happening, it’s helpful to look at one scene from last night’s episode, “Murder/Magic 8-Ball/Procrastination”. You don’t have to look at the reviews themselves (although holy hell, those were incredible, from the physical comedy of the hidden 8-Ball to the “how are they going to murder someone and still have a show” tension of the final, “hidden” review), but at an in-show ceremony long-teased this season: The Reviewer Veto. In this short, seemingly-stilted scene lies the very nature of how there’s a season two of this show at all.
After all, when we last saw Forrest in season one, he had punched out producer Grant and ran screaming into the night for his ex-wife, a scene that showed the “real” Forrest as a nakedly emotional man trying to keep one toehold on reality. The show’s essential premise is that by reviewing life, Forrest has essentially cut himself off from it, with only fleeting, accidental moments in which he reconnects only to have it brutally severed. The “joke,” as it were, is that Forrest is the one who severs those connections. He serves the show, and the longer he continues with it, and the more he loses, the more he paradoxically has to cling to it.
So when we see him back at the start of season two, it’s strange and unsettling. How could the show walk back the heroic end of season one without it feeling like a cheat? By demonstrating the power that Grant, and by extension the idea of the in-show “Review,” has on Forrest. Grant continually offers Forrest rope with which to hang himself, but Forrest sees these as lifelines. The concept of the “Veto” seems tailor-made to avoid the huge mistake of season one–the divorce–even though the show itself is rigged by Grant to provide questions that will ensure even greater meltdowns and even greater ratings.
How does last night’s episode show this? By giving us the first Veto Ceremony, the staging of which gives us tremendous amount of information about the production of the in-universe show and how Grant, Forrest and even AJ interact “off-camera” within this fictional world. The veto was introduced in season two’s premiere as a way to justify the return of Forrest. It was teased last week when Forrest was hesitant about using it for the “6-Star Review,” a request that Grant knew would send Forrest into a tailspin. (The second Forrest questions the validity of “Review,” the second he descends into madness.) And it was unleashed not once but twice last night, with the second veto used on something as innocuous as a six-star review (procrastination) yet equally lethal to Forrest’s internal logic.
But let’s put aside the murder and focus on the veto ceremony. (Sorry for the bad screen grab.)
Again, it’s stilted, overly rehearsed, and on the surface stupid. But it’s worth looking at the staging and the script of the ceremony. Grant brings over a ceremonial piece of equipment (eye goggles). A hammer sits on a pillow atop a podium next to a glass case holding two pieces of parchment. Grant asks Forrest three times, “Are you certain you wish to veto this review?”, and Forrest has to answer in kid three times. Grant then grants Forrest permission to veto the review.
Having three questions lends the ceremony a mystical binding potency, but really it’s a non-hidden way for Grant to build in a way to have Forrest actually review the task anyways. Even in allowing Forrest to veto the review, he’s subtly asking, “Are you SURE you don’t want to do this?” It’s no different than the technique used with the show’s lawyer when the murder review comes up in segment four: Grant offers only the illusion of choice, and Forrest only sees it too late.
Because this is “Review,” and things have weight, that means the lack of remaining vetoes will color the rest of the season as much as Forrest’s divorce. He returned to the show with the renewed promise of agency. In fact, this season has done nothing except separate him further from his ex-wife and created distance with his beloved father. Indeed, “Review” will most likely sever that relationship before the season’s end, because it’s really a tragedy disguised as the funniest show currently on television. Forrest can’t stop, because to stop is to admit how shallow the show is, which is to admit that he’s undone his entire life not for the betterment of mankind but due to the whims of a Machiavellian producer. Forrest can never leave the show. The show will kill him, but his death will not kill the show. There will always be a Grant, and there will always be a Forrest. There will always be a “Review,” because there will always be people that misunderstand knowledge for truth, and those that will exploit those souls in the name of commerce and profit.
And all the while, we watch, laughing, until we realize we are watching ourselves. And then we weep. That’s the brilliance of “Review.”