After finishing 6 wonderful seasons of Parenthood it is time for me to find a new TV show! I set out this weekend to find something to replace it and came across two promising shows. I watched the first two episodes of both Review with Forrest MacNeil and Difficult People and while both were very funny, for me there was a clear winner.
Review with Forrest MacNeil, stars Andy Daly as the stuffy but enthusiastic host of a show with the same name. Forest is a “reviewer of life” and his show attempts to guide viewers through such experiences as a first prom, stealing and racism. “Whatever life experiences you’re curious about, I’ll review it,” he promises. The show is structured to showcase three of these experiences per episode. MacNeil puts everything he can into playing surrogate for his audience, delving deeply into each experience with screamingly funny results most of the time. He ranks each event on a scale of one-half to five stars. Going to Prom (4 stars) Racism (one-half star). While reviewing his very first event: theft Forest moves from stealing malted milk balls to armed bank robbery with a lighting speed that lost me somewhere along the way. I howled as he distributed groceries swiped from an old woman to his unsuspecting family. His wife noted there was “a lot of shredded wheat” and was impressed at the cake he brought her, even if it had someone else’s name on it. I wasn’t quite as delighted when Forest attempts to rob a bank. It was too far-fetched for me to take seriously and I found the entire sequence where his intern gets shot in the ass too silly. Forest shouting “You’re going to die” into his intern’s butt just didn’t do it for me.
What DID do it for me was the more creative humour during Forest’s review of racism. He attempts to become racist by crashing the reunion of a black family conveniently meeting in a “public park”. It would be easy for the show to draw big laughs by having Forest recite stereotypical racist slurs at random, however, what he chooses to deduce from this family is that –“Kevin doesn’t shut up about his catering business” which leads to a hilarious sequence where he shouts “Hey, shut up about your catering business!” to random black strangers.
Forest is so unaware of himself that he comes off as stupid a lot of the time. I understand that he needs to be somewhat of a blank slate to dive completely into his review requests, but it is hard to care about a character so one-dimensional and oblivious. The rest of the cast are one-note early on, as well. I’m still on the fence about Review but I’m definitely intrigued by the title of the series’ third episode, “Pancakes, Divorce, Pancakes.”
Difficult People is a completely different animal. Its leads are keenly self-aware. Julie (Julie Klausner) and Billy (Billy Eichner) are (as the title suggests) difficult and not very nice people. The thing is, they know it and they just don’t care. Julie and Billy are aging comedians jaded by the New York comedy scene. They think the world owes them something because they are artists as this early exchange details, Julie: “God, I’m so funny when I write mean things about TV shows. How come no one’s hired me to write for one?” Billy: “Because our lives are garbage and it’s the world’s fault”. So why care about a show centred around loud-mouthed, entitled leads? Because they care about each other. Plus they are damn funny. There is also a pain that runs through their seeming disregard for anyone who is not them. “God, I hate the sound of children laughing,” Julie quips while waiting for a performance of Annie to begin. It’s remarkable to me how the show demonstrates effortlessly so early on that Julie’s resentment of children stems from herself not being carefree to have a big wide future ahead of her. She tries to ruin their fun by pointing out “Nobody wants to see an understudy. Understudy is like a fancy word for disappointment.” Disappointment is what her and Billy continually try to shield themselves from, letting anyone else in might mean disappointment could seep through. At one point Billy is disgusted to learn that he is dating a “participator” meaning a person who loves audience participation of all kinds, including loudly singing Happy Birthday to strangers in restaurants. Billy ends the relationship so as not to be further exposed to outside attention. He’s a performer, sure, but he doesn’t even trust that attention all the time. In one pair of scenes that bookmark the second episode Julie and Billy tell a comedic story at a new club. In the first scene they are met with bored stares and throat clearing from the audience. They are heartbroken as they leave the stage. In the final scene, their story goes over well, the audience loves it and Billy and Julie immediately decide that they are “over” the club.
Both shows are smart, funny, biting and hilarious but the show I keep wanting to come back to is Difficult People. I like my humour with a little bit of pain and heart mashed in.