Monday, April 09, 2007

Improv Needs Some Improving

I checked out that new improv show on NBC Monday night, Thank God You're Here. It's an improv "contest" between four comedic actors. Each actor has a skit in which they act with the regular comedians, and after the individual skits, the four of them act together in one scene. The actors are given a costume and pretty much just walk into the skit as designed and just let it flow. Every scene always starts out with the line "Thank God you're here."

The premiere episode had Wayne Knight (Newman from Seinfeld), Bryan Cranston (the dad on Malcolm in the Middle), Joel McHale (the host of The Soup) and Jennifer Coolidge (Mrs. Stifler from American Pie). Bryan Cranston was easily the most natural and funny improv actor amongst the four. Wayne Knight was funny too, in his Newman way. Joel McHale seemed awkward in that setting; the beauty of his humor is mostly in the sarcasm. Jennifer Coolidge was SO out there ... still not sure if that was her in character as a beauty pageant contestant or if she was just so terrified that she said the first random thing that popped into her head. Which made it pretty damn funny. Example of random: She was asked to name her dream dinner date companion, and she answered Chewbacca.

Bryan Cranston relied on smooching for most of his laughs in both skits. In his solo skit, which had him as a British rock singer (who reminded me of Constantine Maroulis in his "rawker" persona), he kissed two men and two women. In the ensemble skit, he planted one on one of the regular male comics while playing an (ambiguously?) gay superhero.

Wayne Knight also had some hilarious moments in the ensemble skit as a Human Cockroach superhero, mostly unintentional due to wardrobe malfunctions. First, his antennas kept coming off, which he improv'd to force blindness. Then at the end of the skit, his green briefs fell to his ankles. Hah!

While there were those laugh-out-loud moments (Jennifer Coolidge as a beauty pageant contestant saying she wanted to rid the world of "dry ice" and talking about her experience in Greece and how the Greek men like each other; Bryan Cranston in a pre-taped skit as a policeman laciviously looking up and down a TV news reporter who was interviewing him; Mo'Nique bitching about having a skinny model in a game show skit and then later doing a take-off of "Macarthur Park" at the end of her skit: "someone left the popcorn in the microwave"; Joel McHale drinking a huge bottle of tequila in a customs office), the show suffers from the improv regulars relying on and sticking to a script. Mo'Nique got screwed from this in the second hour of the show, when she would improv something, and the regulars wouldn't take it to where she was leading it. They negated her instead and took it the way it was scripted to. That belies the whole point of improv, no?

To sum it up, it's a good show to watch if you're looking for mindless TV when there's nothing else on or if you're tired of having to dissect everything to death in order to understand it (LOST!). You may get some gems, like the superhero skit. Jason Alexander (George Costanza) is going to be a future guest, and the promo they have with him in a Star Trek scene looks very promising.

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