Just as ABC plucked "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" from the U.K., NBC's latest improv showcase, "Thank God You're Here," hails from Australia, putting an assortment of sitcom performers through the paces before anointing a no-prize winner.
Just as ABC plucked “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” from the U.K., NBC’s latest improv showcase, “Thank God You’re Here,” hails from Australia, putting an assortment of sitcom performers through the paces before anointing a no-prize winner. Hit-miss in the way improv almost invariably is, the show feels flabby at an hour (“Whose Line” was half that and paired with sitcoms), leaving a premiere that yields a few of the cheapest kind of chuckles on just about every level.“In Living Color” veteran David Alan Grier and “Kids in the Hall” alum Dave Foley have relatively few responsibilities in their respective roles as host and judge, as the series puts each actor in a costume, then has them walk through a door into an unknown scene where they must wing it after being greeted with the trademark title. The performers are presented with “everything but a script,” Grier explains (which, last I checked, actually makes them reality TV stars) — providing the skimpiest of hooks for another improv concept, albeit one where the cast members who perform the scenes with the guest stars are obviously prepped in advance. For Jennifer Coolidge, that means wearing a gown and being greeted by a beauty pageant, where she’s asked to describe her nation (“An island surrounded by sea,” she deadpans) and explain her work on nuclear proliferation. Wayne Knight steps into a morning chatshow, and “Malcolm in the Middle’s” Bryan Cranston — who delivers what’s easily the wackiest turn — is a long-haired rock star meeting with a record executive. There are several references here to these “brave actors,” when in actuality, there’s really precious little at stake. In this environment, being broad and silly can extricate you from just about any situation — a strategy quickly ascertained by Cranston, who vamps through any sequence merely by grabbing somebody, anybody, and kissing them squarely on the lips. Taking a slightly cynical step backward, NBC has every reason to take a flier on this format and others like it, which are not only inexpensive but likely strike-proof should the writers walk out later this year. In that respect, the show provides a subtle reminder that these actors aren’t the only ones poking their heads through a slightly ominous portal without a clear idea as to what they’ll find on the other side.