By Hank Stuever
The Washington Post
"Life is all we have, but is it any good?" asks ultimate critic Forrest MacNeil in Comedy Central's appealingly hilarious new series, Review.
Instead of reviewing books, movies or -- yeesh -- TV shows, MacNeil (played by Andy Daly, with perfect deadpan seriousness) takes suggestions from his viewers about what life experience he should tackle next. When he's completed the task, he rates the activity on a five-star scale.
"When I get back from rehab, I'll probably say that cocaine is terrible!" MacNeil frantically yells to the camera that follows him everywhere, after his wife (Jessica St. Clair) and friends stage an intervention because his assignment to review addiction has gone ridiculously awry. "But do not believe me! I give [cocaine] a million stars!" (Post-rehab, he soberly gives it half a star.)
Nearly all of MacNeil's assignments are ill-advised: He robs a bank to see what stealing is like. He takes the babysitter to her prom. He makes a sex tape with a lifelike doll. He dresses as Batman and tries to be a superhero. Dabbling in the experience of being a racist, the strait-laced MacNeil ends up in the swastika-decorated garage of a friend he meets in a mandatory "sensitivity training" workshop at the office. "You like Hitler," MacNeil offers.
"I like the way Hitler started out," the man replies. "But when he started with the Obama stuff, that's when it all went downhill."
MacNeil gives racism half a star.
"Forrest, it's racism," says the show's pretty on-air host (Megan Stevenson). "It should get no stars."
But MacNeil is an upstanding journalist, the people's tribune, and it is Review's stated policy that there is no experience in life that deserves zero stars. Next assignment!
"What's it like to get a divorce?" a viewer asks.
MacNeil is so committed to his work that he musters the courage to ask his wife for a divorce, even though he doesn't want one at all. The beauty of Review is how each assignment serves to make MacNeil progressively more pathetic. The show builds on his misery as Daly and the rest of the cast never waver from the overall mockumentary-like premise. A concurrent assignment -- "What's it like to eat 15 pancakes?" -- just makes MacNeil sick on top of despondent.
This all might be particularly delicious territory for us pathetic creatures known as critics, but, being as objective as one can be in a review, I happen to think Review is one of Comedy Central's most effortless and truly funny new shows in a while. It's also a sly rebuttal to an era in which everyone's a critic and anything can be reviewed online, anonymously. For showing us how silly that really is, I give Review four stars!
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Co-conceived by actor Dennis Leary (and vaguely resonant of his FX drama Rescue Me), USA's new half-hour comedy Sirens turns out to be a wicked little exercise in gallows humor, riffing on the bizarre situations that emergency medical technicians see firsthand.
The premise is simple enough: Three EMTs roam around Chicago in their ambulance and, between calls, slag on one another. Johnny (Michael Mosley) just broke up with his cop girlfriend (Jessica McNamee) and regrets it, while Hank (Kevin Daniels) joins Johnny in perpetually razzing the rookie, Brian (Kevin Bigley).
Like everything else in the half-hour format, Sirens whizzes past at 90 mph. But the humor is smart-ish and has more bite and suggestive raunch than you'd expect. The performances are smooth and the momentum feels right -- something most new comedies never achieve. Three stars!
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FX has offered comedian George Lopez the same deal it offered Charlie Sheen with Anger Management: If Lopez's new sitcom, Saint George, gets past 10 episodes at a certain ratings threshold, the network will guarantee another 90 episodes. After just one episode, it's nauseating to think someone would have to write 89 more.
The show is a textbook example of what goes wrong when a sitcom tries to dispel stereotypes mostly by reinforcing them. Lopez plays George Lopez, a Mexican-American entrepreneur who has found success with a Latino-marketed energy drink. Recently divorced and living with his grouchy mama (Olga Merediz), George is goaded by his wolf-mannered uncle and cousin (Danny Trejo and David Zayas) into the dating scene.
For much of the show, George fends off the unwanted advances of Concepcion (Diana Maria Riva), who happens to be the funniest character on the show and also a complete hoochie-coochie cliche. The number of below-the-belt jokes are but one indication that Saint George is only concerned with making sure that everyone in America has an equal opportunity at making terrible television. I give it no stars.
But you can't give something zero stars!