Andy Daly's terrific Comedy Central show Review got off to a strong start when it debuted on March 6, but last night it aired what you might call its statement episode, "Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes." In the show, star Forrest MacNeil (played by Daly) takes on any life experience his viewers ask and reviews the results. In the first two episodes he took on things like stealing, racism and making a sex tape. The third episode begins with the inane challenge: what's it like to eat 15 pancakes? Even Forrest, deeply committed to his show, seems baffled at the challenge.
Then for his second challenge of the day, Forrest is asked, "what's it like to get divorced?" And that's when the viewer fully realizes the deep insanity of what's going on here. Not when Forrest is trying not to barf in a diner parking lot, but when he approaches his wife (Jessica St. Clair) out of nowhere and tells her out of nowhere that he wants a divorce.
The episode is incredible, and has attracted critical raves across the board, so make sure to watch it (you can see most of the pivotal clips here and it'll probably show up on Hulu eventually) if you can. We talked to creator and star Andy Daly about what went into the episode and what's coming next for poor Forrest MacNeil.
The Wire: In the first two episodes, you're setting up the conceit of the show, and in this episode, the consequences start to set in. What were you thinking when you broke this down?
Andy Daly: The first thing to say is when I first saw the Australian version [that Review is a remake of]...the second episode is where he gets divorced, and in their custody scene, which we bumped to episode four, he has all the things he's done in the past brought up and used against him.
That was the moment, watching that, where I was like, "okay, I get what this show is." It's this guy bringing extreme experiences into his own life, things that people are asking somebody else to do because they don't want to do them and shouldn't be done. The repercussions it has on the rest of his life, that's what the show is about.
This is sort of a narrative show, with a sketch-like quality in that he embarks on a new project every so often.
Right, I just don't think you can tell the story of what it's like to have an extreme life experience without seeing everything it does to the rest of your life. It has to be about that. So they did it in their second of six. We were setting out originally to make eight, so we wanted to establish the pattern a little more before we did that. Knowing that in the Australian version he does get divorced and stay divorced, and it does deal with it a little bit further. And we, really it was [director] Jeff Blitz, who said if we're going to do that, and hew to reality and have him break up his marriage in episode 3, that's something we really want to hang the season on, that's such a gigantic thing to do. That's kind of what the rest of the season is about, in a way.
Is anything else from the Australian episode? Was the pancakes your invention, or was it inspired by anything?
That was ours. I have to confess, the script for episode three originally went 15 pancakes, divorce, Batman, 30 pancakes. In the editing process, we realized that was way too much show, so we figured out a way to bump Batman to episode four. But we wanted to put this giant life-changing thing around all this frivolity.
When this show began, why he's doing this is not really clear. With every episode, you're layering in a little more about who this guy is and what's driving him to do such objectively insane things.
Right. Well we have this restriction we've placed on ourselves that it's not a show within a show, it's only the show. So everything we're seeing is for the show. Each one of these pieces is an exploration, and there's nothing in it that Forrest doesn't feel is essential to us understanding it. It's a little hard to get exposition and backstory into these pieces, because he's really just trying to tell us the topic at hand.
So when he's showing us [behind the scenes footage of] the producer, or the intern at the office, he's decided we need to see it.
Yes, we need to see this scene to understand his experience of the topic we're talking about right now. By introducing Grant [the producer, played by James Urbaniak] like that, it was necessary for Forrest to put that in there, because it's what allowed Forrest to eat 15 pancakes. And then we get a little bit of backstory, that Forrest came up with the concept for this show and thinks it's important for humanity and is just as important as penicillin. One thing that I really like that I'm proud of is that we get that out in [the 15 pancakes segment] and it's useful to have heard it by the divorce.
It reminds me of a lot of British comedies, in that you cannot look away from this horrifying thing. When you approach Jess St. Clair [who plays Forrest's wife], you want him to stop, but of course that's what makes it funny. That cringe humor is so hard to pull off, but you're doing a nice job of it. Do you worry you're being too rough, that we won't be able to laugh because what's happening to Forrest is just so miserable?
I don't know if we worry about it...we worked very hard to get the right mix of ingredients in there to help us enjoy watching him fall. Because his arrogance and his various blindnesses and stupidities has been established.
His human flaws.
His human flaws, but I don't know, he is pretty extraordinarily arrogant and blind.
Forrest is so inherently likable, because he's so chipper and such a go-getter. But at the same time, he's somewhat villainous in his behavior.
We look at him as a guy who has just tragically failed in the past, who now has latched onto this project and is giving it everything because he can't fail again.
Hence his devotion.
And also, by the way, I mentioned this in a tweet last night, that the concept of the scene where Grant says to Forrest, "You told me, even if I beg, don't let me out," we talked about the scene in Young Frankenstein when Frankenstein says to Igor, "I'm going in there, I'm going to deal with the monster now, and you may hear me screaming, you may hear me say, please open the door, but no matter what I say do not open this door." That, I think, is sort of the dynamic between Forrest and Grant.
Your supporting cast is great. Jess St. Clair is doing something that it's very difficult to make funny.
Isn't that incredible? It's pretty amazing. She has to ground the reality, she has to be a straight man, she has to do all this heavy drama, and somehow finds a way to make it hilarious. There's a line she improvised in last night's episode, at the end of the divorce conversation, she yells, "you're WEIRD!" It's amazing, and it's an important line, because he is, he's weird.
He's deeply weird, and it hasn't fully been addressed yet.
Just the fact that he's wearing the same clothes all the time, that he's always in this outfit, and he's doing weird things that he's not explaining. It's important that she's understood up to this point that he's a weirdo.
I feel this is the culmination of a lot of characters you've played who are these very chipper guys who obviously have a lot boiling under the surface, who are besieged with increasingly terrible things.
For me, what I got to do in Eastbound & Down was such an incredible thrill, and an unexpected thrill. I didn't know that that was where we were going, to get to play a guy who seems to have it all together, but as soon as he starts to be challenged, he falls apart and we realize he's been on a shaky foundation from the beginning. I love that so much, and so the possibilities for doing something similar to that were obvious to me when I saw the Australian version of this. This is a guy setting out on a stupid mission that of course is going to wreak havoc in his life. And the question is, what happens to him then? That's been the fun thing to figure out.
The show has been around, in the can, for a while. The reaction's been very positive, and Comedy Central's done a pretty good job trying to get it out there. Do you have a plan for the second season?
Yeah, in the earliest planning stages of season one, we kind of had a vague notion of season two, that we've started to talk a little more about, me and Jeff Blitz.
They haven't said anything to us about it, and I don't even know. For Comedy Central, to their great credit, it's not all about ratings. Critical response and the fan engagement and the different kind of numbers all blend together into a picture, whether they can use it further or not. So I'm waiting to find out.
So how many more episodes do we have?
Well, we set out to make eight but we ended up with nine, because we had so many on-set ideas that were too hard to edit out in the end. And the last two in particular are very special to me.