The fine, under-appreciated art of improvisational comedy gets some primetime exposure in this summer series that’s one part sketch effort and one part gameshow. As host Drew Carey says, “I make everything up, and nobody wins anything,” yet somehow this six-parter, inspired by a BBC Radio and TV series of the same name, has more than its share of amusing moments thanks to a talented ensemble.
It takes true nerve for a performer to get up on national TV and spontaneously respond to unrehearsed stimuli. Even “Saturday Night Live” has a week of rehearsals and onstage cue cards to make the experience more like a stage play than a naked, reactive performance. This makes “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” a decidedly different viewing experience, more like a night with the Groundlings than a conventional comedy series.
Helping things along is a quick-witted group of comics — in the pilot, the quartet is composed of three frequent contributors to the BBC series — Ryan Stiles (from “The Drew Carey Show”), Colin Mochrie and Greg Proops — and Wayne Brady, also a vet of the British program.
They engage in a series of impromptu skits and games engineered by loosey-goosey ringmaster Carey. In one, they are instructed to impersonate various people and animals: an excitable dog, an auctioneer, a blues singer. In another, the four perform mock-awful video dating service tapes wearing odd hats, ad-libbing all the while.
Some of the sketches fall flat or lapse into painful corniness, as is to be expected from a show on which everyone is making it up as they go along. The best moments generally feature Brady, a gifted comedian and vocalist who comes up with some phenomenal lyrics on the spur of the moment — particularly when asked to create a series of songs about accountants. He is the half-hour’s clear star.
Most outrageously, Proops manages to do a convincing job portraying a foal being born. He received several points for his efforts, with Carey — clearly enjoying himself — awarding them completely arbitrarily, according to his whim.
As it should be.
Even when a skit implodes, however, it’s still fun to watch due to the uniqueness of the concept itself. The nightly dial surely can use more of what this show has to offer: an anti-sitcom antidote to primetime tedium.
But we shouldn’t expect any miracles here. There are compelling reasons why networks tend to relegate fresh, offbeat programming to the months when TV use is way down. The shows tend to get lost in the fall/spring clutter otherwise. So enjoy “Whose Line” while you can. Tomorrow, it will be back to “Friends” and “Seinfeld” wannabes.