Mar 6, 2014

Review: “Stealing, Addiction, Prom”

By Josh Oakley

Andy Daly has been a staple of the comedy community for years. Those who spend too many hours devouring podcasts may know him best from Comedy Bang! Bang! and his numerous, oft-suicidal characters. Those who only tap into the field for the occasional sitcom probably recognize him from Eastbound & Down. Wherever you discovered Daly, his unique persona likely bled through whatever role he was cast in. This may sound insulting, as if he had only one note to play. Instead, Daly has become a master of finding every hilarious corner of a specific brand of pathetic, one masked by undeserved confidence that hides a core of troubled depression. Review, which fans of Daly have been waiting nearly two years for, perfectly encapsulates what makes the comedian one of the best working today.

The format of Review is deceivingly simple. Daly plays Forrest MacNeil, a man who reviews not art or literature but life experiences. Situations such as stealing or addiction then receive a rating on the scale of five stars. In the first episode, at least, none of the situations garner more than two. This outcome likely stems from MacNeil’s bubbling insanity, his pattern of reveling far too much in the slightest success. See the episode’s first segment, on stealing. After making his way out of a grocery store with unpaid-for candy in pocket (and assuring a store clerk he “didn’t really find anything to buy today”), he quickly escalates from taking bags of food from an elderly woman to jumping in an unwatched police car with his dog.

Escalation seems to be the key word for Review. A topic such as addiction obviously has room to grow outlandish (and does, intervention and all), which is why the most unassuming segment may be the most fascinating. The final third of the episode, based around prom, instantly becomes dark as a middle-aged man asks high-school girls to escort him to the big dance. The horror stems out from there, including a shot of MacNeil in the car with his babysitter, lit like a disgusting scene from either a scarring drama or lewd thriller. Prom does have a number of laughs, especially in its callbacks to the previous two life experiences, but much of this portion is dark and strange, hitting a nerve rarely seen on a television comedy. The show immediately establishes itself as pitch-black and wisely makes no apologies on the matter.

This juxtaposition of an overly-joyous man concealing a dead heart plays beautifully to Daly’s strengths. There’s always something off to the smile that any Daly character wears, a thin mask keeping the inner-darkness at bay. MacNeil then is a grand creation for Daly. He is someone all too happy to overindulge in whatever monstrous activity he’s called upon to review. MacNeil has a clear desire to tear off the shackles of daily existence through anything from a bank robbery to a line of cocaine. The show knows that it could wholly lean on Daly, but wisely surrounds him with an able supporting cast, namely Jessica St. Clair who, among other things, is also superb on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast. She isn’t given all that much to do yet, but her casting suggests that there’s more ahead for the character.

The other vital element of Review is the fact that the production hews so closely to something like Dateline. The voice-over, occasional shaky-cam and absurdly green-screened stage are important elements that make Review feel authentic, so the humor is that much stronger when everything falls apart.

In its initial outing, Review seems to prove that Daly fans have not been waiting in vain. The character of MacNeil is already strong enough to stand alongside creations such as Dalton Wilcox or Danny Mahoney. Review successfully explores what makes Daly such a great performer, and when a show can tap into that well, not even a cocaine-induced heart attack can stop it. Four stars.

Grade: B+

  • The early Mork/Mark joke sets the mood quickly and perfectly.
  • Easily the line of the night, even though I’ve already heard it multiple times in commercials: “I’ve tried cocaine, cigarettes, alcohol, didn’t get addicted to any of those. But there’s one more thing I need to try: cocaine!”
  • “The only thing I’ve ever been addicted to is a thirst for knowledge.”
  • Those who dig this show but aren’t familiar with Daly should check out any Comedy Bang! Bang! with him as a guest, specifically his appearances with Jason Mantzoukas, specifically Episode #131: Mayor of Hollywood. Or you can look up his excellent podcast mini-series, The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project, namely the first entry starring Dalton Wilcox.
  • Speaking of Bang! Bang!, a question for listeners: where do you think MacNeil falls in the division of good and evil heard in this week’s episode? I’d say good, though keep in mind how low that bar is set when it comes to Andy Daly characters.
Image via Comedy Central

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