Comedy Central’s Review, now in its second season, is both one of the funniest and darkest shows on TV. The scripted show follows a character named Forrest MacNeil, played by Andy Daly, as he sets out to review life experiences for viewers. A plucky human guinea pig, MacNeil receives requests to review a wide range of experiences—divorce, space travel, making a sex tape—and dutifully sets about each. Nothing goes right, and along the way, he destroys lives: principally, his own.
When I speak to Daly, I tell him his show reminds me more of drama and horror than comedy: Breaking Bad, Running Man, and even Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit (setting: Hell) seem nearer cousins to the show than The Daily Show. Daly considers a moment, before deciding the comparisons don’t seem wildly off. Somehow, though, as MacNeil’s life becomes more nightmarish, the show becomes more compulsively watchable—and, to a certain comedic taste, amusing.
In the most recent episode, the series reached what Daly calls a “high watermark of insanity,” after MacNeil reviews “Being a Cult Leader” and “Bodybuilding” in quick succession. Fast Company caught up with Daly to learn more about the show’s origins, writing process, and Daly’s occasional worry that the show has also taken over his own (actual) life. (Some spoilers do follow.)
Fast Company: It occurs to me that this is the ultimate show about a subject we cover in Fast Company a lot: work/life balance.
Andy Daly: When I think about the evolution of the show, that idea was not one we necessarily set out to explore. We just thought it would be funny to meet this guy in a settled life with his wife and child, embarking on this enterprise of reviewing life experiences. We knew we were going to have him get divorced, but I don’t think we necessarily knew at first how important that was going to be. But once we committed to a realistic world, it did become an exploration of that question: How much are you willing to sacrifice for a job? Forrest thinks his job is the most important thing in the history of humanity, so the answer is, he’s willing to sacrifice pretty much anything.
In the Australian show you adapted, there was a divorce review. Some observers of the original show felt the character was a sociopath, but MacNeil never feels that way. Did you set out to change that?
I talked to Phil Lloyd, who played Myles Barlow, and he said that he never thought of the character as a psychopath, but just a guy with a scientist-like commitment to his work. I wanted to make that much clearer with our show, leave less doubt. We tried to make clearer that there’s a conflict between Forrest and the show. In the Australian version, it just feels like Barlow’s show—nobody else is asking for these reviews. But we made very clear that Forrest is not choosing these topics. He would never choose to divorce his wife. We also added the producer character, who foists things on Forrest in a Machiavellian way.
How have you been balancing your own work and life as this show has taken off?
It’s hard. It definitely has occurred to me that it’s ironic that I’m making a show about a guy with an overwhelming commitment to his job, and it’s sometimes causing problems for my family life. The writing process was fast and stressful and time-consuming, then the shooting process is full-on, 12 hours a day, five days a week, for eight weeks. Our editing process is better, but it still takes a lot of mental and emotional energy. Because I care so much about it, I become involved in every part of it. I feel like my face is on it, and I’ll be associated with it forever. And I don’t want to squander the opportunity. But yes, there are times when I’ve done guest spots on sitcoms, and I see the actors’ lives: They have someone else write the jokes, then they do a couple of scenes and then go home. I think, “Man, that’s the life, isn’t it?”
What’s a major creative logjam you had this season, and how did you solve it?
There are so many creative logjams you have in making a show. For season one we had a hilarious writer named Kevin Dorff on staff. One day we were starting out the writing day, and everyone was getting coffee and snacks, and finally we sat down to work. And Kevin said: “Get bogged down in: 3… 2… 1…” It was so funny, and so true. Every day was like, “Al right, how are we gonna crack this story?” Another writer friend of mine has a phrase: “You’re at the bottom of story mountain.” This stuff is hard.
What are pitches you ruled out, or almost ruled out?
For a while we had “Hoarding” on the board as something Forrest could review. Maybe in a future season we’ll crack it. But because of that show about hoarding, it just felt like we were doing a parody of a preexisting reality TV show. The “Bare-Knuckle Brawl” segment at the beginning of this season was one that was about to enter the garbage can. It just didn’t seem to have the capacity to escalate in the way we like pieces to escalate. Where do you take it? We had so many ideas, but none felt right, until somebody pitched, “Maybe he throws one punch and gets mowed down with bullets.” And we went, “Yeah.”
This interview has been condensed and edited.