Lunchtable TV Talk: Review

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Forrest MacNeil rivals my own knowledge of zip codes! He proudly declares sometime in season two that he knows all the zip codes, which makes his co-host roll her eyes (as she often does), and mutter, “That’s weird.” And yeah, it is. But sometimes it is moments like these that flip the switch for me – I like something but really decide I like it in small moments like that. Our zip code kinship sealed the deal.

I had been hearing about Review with Forrest MacNeil for a good while and could never find it to watch online (until now). Taunted by its presence in a list of TV’s 35 best shows (and my inability to see it), I sought it out and have now finally, greedily, watched it all. It’s been a trip into really committed absurdity. I’ve had a few laughs. More importantly, I’ve seen something here that I have not quite seen before. It is full of, as a recent article in The Atlantic describes, “cringe-inducing” humor, always imbuing the viewer with that dreaded sense that all best and earnest intentions are bound to go wrong coupled with a few visual gags that provide a juvenile chuckle or two. As the same article in The Atlantic points out as well, it is a show about a very average, milquetoast man who believes his opinions are important and in this belief transcends the limitations of his suburbanite timidity and dullness: “Like so many average men, Forrest thinks his opinions are important, a seemingly harmless belief the show carries to extreme conclusions.”

Forrest MacNeil is fictional tv show host who reviews life rather than tv shows or movies, and with considerable earnestness of his own and manipulative coaxing from his producer, pushes absurd viewer questions into insane territory… and ridiculous, insane consequences result. In fact, tragic results, if they weren’t so completely ridiculous. From taking an ultimately tragic space flight to leading a cult, Forrest MacNeil’s explorations on behalf of other people’s curiosity are preposterous (and seem to adversely affect those he loves most of all – from ruining his marriage and his ex’s future happiness to destroying all his father’s homes) – and his own complete obliviousness, disregard for anyone else’s feelings or for what is appropriate (in the name of his “mission”) lead to disaster.

I do wonder: is Forrest MacNeil a psychopath? Hard to tell – he’s an insecure guy who does love and wants to be loved. But constantly putting his show ahead of his own well-being and the well-being of those he loves has made him blind to consequences. He nearly dies a dozen times and descends into lunacy. And just as he decides to delve into what it’s like to believe in a conspiracy theory, he decides the show’s producer, Grant, is the villain who has conspired to kill him through his show’s review process. Until Grant slyly shoots down the theories with:

“People are constantly asking you to review dangerous things because they already know what the easy stuff is like. They can do that themselves. Living on the edge like this, things will go wrong and people get hurt.”

In some ways this feels a bit like a meditation/commentary on reality TV and how as a society, our craving for more – both living vicariously through others and demanding the most extreme actions through them – has pushed the edges of normalcy and decency to … abnormal and indecent territory.

All in the name of entertainment… the show must go on, right?

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