Review: In its second season “Review” turns into an all-time classic series

You might not think the show “Review” would be one of the small screen’s best examinations of the nature of evil. You would be wrong.

I’ve written fair extensively about the show over the past two years, as it’s gone from an interesting pilot to a fascinating series of continuity-laced sketches to one of the more somber depictions of human frailty on any network. Every time it seems like the show can’t push its protagonist any further, “Review” finds a way to strip a little more of the man’s happiness away.

Forrest MacNeil is hollow at the outset of tonight’s finale, as well he should be: He spent the last episode in jail after being arrested for murder that he committed (albeit in self-defense) in the season’s antepenultimate installment. “Conspiracy Theory” allowed Forrest to wonder the same thing that we the audience have been wondering since early in Season 1: Is Grant an evil mastermind hellbent on breaking Forrest’s soul in the name of ratings? As per usual, the answers were murky, as “Review” sent to make us as enraged and confused as Forrest himself.

But the beauty of this finale is that it articulates, albeit through Forrest’s ex-wife, Suzanne, that it’s not just Grant that’s a monster here. While Forrest realizes he’s almost died 11 times in the course of two seasons, he does not stop for a second to think about the collateral damage he has done, nor does he own up to the terrible things he has done to his family.* If Grant is evil, it’s only because Forrest gives him the power to be so. And in Forrest, we have a creature that is fundamentally unable to think he’s doing anything but helping humanity through his sacrifice.

* One thing that didn’t quite track for me: Did Suzanne learn about the show-within-a-show at some point this year? It’s totally possible she did, but I must have missed that.

The first half of “Conspiracy Theory” has Forrest laying out many of the thoughts that critics and commenters have articulated for years: That the reviews aren’t random, that Grant hand-selects them, and that Grant selects them as part of some psychological experiment that potentially will produce boffo ratings. Just in the way that “Review” organized its reviews in a way to track with Forrest’s emotional state, so too did Grant orchestrate these picks in order to break the host down brick by brick. Not only is Grant involved, deduces Forrest, but so is everyone on the show.

A late-night visit to Grant seems to quell these fears, but it’s notable that Grant positions Forrest’s face to maximize single-camera coverage. Sure, Grant has all the answers, but few of us probably believed him. Instead, we screamed as much as Forrest later did when the second review (hidden from the episode title for maximum surprise) called for him to review being hunted. Andy Daly gives a tour de force as he realizes his office is actually a prison, and it does not help when Grant knows exactly what route will take to Suzanne’s mother’s house. The hunter in question confronts Forrest on a bridge, at which point two things happen: We learn this hunter actually is packing a paint gun, and Forrest topples Grant over the bridge in an image that somehow invokes the final moments of a certain NBC show that ended earlier this summer. Did not see THAT coming.

Does the paint gun mean Grant is actually good? Of course not. If anything, he probably planned that review (which included several deviations, such as Lucille arranging for the hunter) in order to maximize Forrest’s paranoia, only to have the paint gun as a way to further ensnare Forrest in the show. Forrest will gladly risk life and limb if he thinks there’s a safety net, and for once, Grant had it in place. Of course, it was too little, too late, and Grant miscalculated how badly he had damaged Forrest with the murder/prison/conspiracy trio. (Another of course: OF COURSE this all sounds like its own conspiracy, which is probably the point, because “Review” is freakin’ genius.)

The year isn’t over yet, but “Review” is making a strong case for the single best television program of the year. I hate making such proclamations in the moment, since I’ve felt that way about several other programs this year (including “Jane The Virgin,” “Veep,” and “Bojack Horseman”). This season of “Review” should not have worked. Everything about the first season led to a perfect moment of catharsis, and had it ended there, it would have been a beautiful, sad piece of pop culture. But by go darker and deeper, “Review” got even funnier this season while being a genuinely moving depiction of obsession, narcissism, and self-destruction. It’s not simply that we can see ourselves as either Forrest or Grant. We are the ones sending in these reviews, demanding that those in the spotlight entertain us, and then taking no responsibility for the toll that spotlight takes. No one comes out clean on “Review,” but hopefully, we at home come out a little wiser.