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6 Signs That Review Takes Place in Purgatory

And is headed toward hell. Photo: Jesse Grant/Comedy Central

A handful of episodes into its second season and bleaker than ever, Andy Daly’s Review is destined for cult status, and not just the kind that will lead to Forrest’s dad’s house getting destroyed again. Inevitably, every show that attracts a devoted fan base will bring with it the dubious distinction of unlikely but plausible fan theories. The castaways on Lost are stuck in a time loop. All the babies on Rugrats are figments of Angelica’s imagination. Murder, She Wrote? More like Multiple Murders She Committed. Following in the footsteps of this time-honored tradition, we are proud to present the first (to our knowledge) Review conspiracy theory.

Forrest MacNeil is in some kind of purgatory.

Now, sure, you might be saying, “Couldn’t it just be that the writing on Review is so assured that plot and character are perfectly entwined, with each cruel twist in Forrest’s life having a direct catalyst in his actions and internal philosophy? That Andy Daly, Jeffrey Blitz, and the show’s writers have created comedy’s closest cousin to Breaking Bad?”

Well, yeah, sure. That could be. But equally likely is that Forrest is caught in a miserable afterlife, forced to compete with his own moral fortitude. And, if you’re looking hard enough, all the evidence is there.

Now, for your consideration:

1. Forrest can’t talk about the show outside the studio.
Whether he’s adopting an Irish accent or divorcing his wife, Forrest is, for reasons that only make sense to him, unable to explain to people that it’s just for the show. And beyond that, despite the fact that Forrest is a TV personality on a show apparently popular enough to receive new review requests each week, no one outside the studio ever seems to recognize Forrest. It’s almost as though the show doesn’t even exist outside the studio — almost as if the show isn’t a part of our world, but a world all its own, outside time and space. Have you noticed that Forrest never changes his clothes? That despite the fact that the show “films” in multiple locations, we never see AJ outside the studio? Outside time and space. In purgatory. Next.

2. Every episode presents Forrest with a moral test and a path to redemption.
By the Catholic definition, purgatory is a place where sinners are given the opportunity to atone for their sins. Well, Forrest is certainly given ample opportunity for atonement. Each of Forrest’s reviews are structured in a similar way: He has an experience, is given the option to quit before inflicting irreversible damage to himself and others, and then sets about having a much worse version of that experience instead. For example, when Forrest takes a job for the express purpose of quitting it, the first time around, it leaves his new boss nonplussed but unphased. Review accomplished, Forrest is given the chance to head back to the studio with no harm done. But, no, instead he gets a job at a coffee stand, becomes close with its sweet old owner, and leaves in the wake of a disaster that destroys both the business and an old man’s heart. Forrest is stuck in a time loop of moral bankruptcy that you’d think someone living within the confines of this earth would eventually learn from.

3. Forrest’s sins don’t go away, they accumulate.
After Forrest’s divorce, perhaps the biggest twist in Review’s first season was just how continuity conscious the show turned out to be. We’re almost 20 years into an oft-described TV renaissance that has conditioned us to expect tight cause-and-effect between episodes of a drama, but it’s still rare for a televised comedy to carry over anything more than a protagonist’s romantic partner of the moment throughout a season. Not so with Review. Episode by episode, Forrest’s transgressions accumulate until Forrest is crushed beneath him. See Forrest’s review of “Being Batman,” in which his past reviews of cocaine use, making a sex tape (with a sex doll), going to the prom, being a racist, consuming 15 and/or 30 pancakes, and, yes, even being Batman blow up his attempt to stay in his son’s life. He feels less like a comedy protagonist and more like a soul tortured by his own misdeeds.

4. Forrest can’t say no to the tests set before him.
At the core of each of Forrest’s moral tests is the bizarre and immovable truth that Forrest can’t say no to what is set out before him. Throughout the first season, even the most reprehensible requests — for example, reviewing racism — are met with, at most, resigned acquiescence. In season two, the looming presence of a Veto Booth with two vetoes seems somehow crueler given that, in Forrest’s hands, we know that if it’s used at all, it will be used against him, either by Graham or by himself. The first season ended on an almost hopeful note, with Forrest swearing off the show and doing what’s probably best for the world: disappearing. But of course season two begins with our man right back where he started, standing next to AJ Gibbs. How is this show even more sinister than before? Why are her eyes so blank??

5. Grant is an arbiter of punishment.
Even if there weren’t something vaguely menacing about James Urbaniak’s voice, Grant would still be a sinister character. Whenever Forrest needs a helping hand, there is Grant to drag him down. Whenever Forrest sees a way to spare himself and others from misery, there is Grant to tempt him away. Whenever Forrest sees a light at the end of the tunnel, there is Grant to blot it out. Either Grant is the personification of the forces conspiring to punish Forrest, or Grant is the force itself. He has a deep understanding of the man Forrest is. Grant emerges from the shadows to coax Forrest into debasing himself, but he never uses anything besides Forrest’s own words and desires against him. “Even if I beg to stop, don’t let me,” indeed.

6. Season two represents Forrest’s further descent into hell.
The point of purgatory is to expunge a soul of its sins and redeem it so it may enter heaven. But Forrest might just be the first person to fail purgatory. So far this season, Forrest has already metaphorically destroyed a nurse’s life, literally destroyed Mrs. Greenfield’s life, demolished both of his dad’s houses, gotten his father shot in the leg, started a cult, and caused the death of everyone in that cult. He is going to hell.

6 Signs That Review Takes Place in Purgatory