Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Whose Line is it Anyway?" Reboot: Initial Reactions

     So, as of this Tuesday (7/17/13), we have seen the reappearance of "Whose Line is it Anyway", the hit improvisational comedy show that, for one, really defined part of my childhood, as I grew up watching it, and always flocking to it when I discovered the syndication that flitted on and off of the air, or was playing original episodes. The original, nearly decade long run was an absolutely fantastic, albeit cheesy, form of vaudville-esque sketch comedy, that was very much eternally self-aware and had fun with itself a great deal of the time.

Now, the one thing that always defined the show for me, in hindsight, was the relationships of everyone on the show. It felt, very much like a troupe or a family, akin to Monty Python's Flying Circus in a respect. Simply due to the chemistry and the relationships being one of the building points of the comedy, even though the humor ranged from conventional, to absurd, it was all built on the strength of the relationships between the comics in question. Regardless of who was exchanged, switched around, added on, removed, or anything, there was eternal sense of the relationship between the comedians on stage. It lent to a great deal of banter, in-jokes that can easily be picked up on, for even a new viewer, and made it feel like there was a lot of emotion that added on to the strength of the comedy, making it feel natural, letting it flow, and making the points between the games all the stronger and make the show actually feel longer and more lasting, despite the criticism of the sheer number of breaks between show and commercial, to where it cuts out a healthy 10 minutes of the shows running time, rather than most television only sacrificing 6 minutes for advertising. The point is that upon my first viewing of the 2 new episodes of the series, I feel that so far, there is a very missing sense of Family that made the show more than just a good sketch comedy, but a good show in general.

While I won't deny the comedic talent of the new host, Alisha Taylor, or the strength in comedy of the now well-aged returning stars, Ryan Stiles, Colin Mocherie, or Wayne Brady, there is still this sense that, something's been lost in terms of the relationship. The relationship is still strong with the 3 main center-pieces, because they have had a decade to work together, and still share a strong sense of kinship on stage, it's that it feels ... Insulated. Largely due to the current lack of strength of relationship between the host and the cast. This could be due to it being her first real time on the show, and being a host of a show of this particularly original nature, but it still leads to a cauterized whiplash from the details that made the show more light-hearted and easy to connect to.

 There's no banter really between Alisha and any of the cast members, and there isn't the classic ending point to the "Points don't matter", bit at the beginning. Ex. "Welcome to Whose Line is it anyway, the show where everything is made up and the points don't matter, that's right, the point's don't matter, like whatever your girlfriend says while the game is on". There was a constantly chiding sense of friendship, references, and other matter of silly, and at times, topically biting humor that really gave the show a sense of strength, which the first two episodes of Season 9, as I will be referring to it as for sake of ease, sorely lacked. Further, what made the show particularly charming with it's sense of family and closeness, wasn't just insulting the host in a tongue-in-cheek manner, it wasn't just the steadily accrued in-jokes and patterns, it was how the audience was even brought into it a good number of times, with the yelling and audience suggestions, and particularly, bringing in the audience members. Now, it wasn't done EVERY episode, admittedly, but it was a steady and often enough pattern that it became part of the show's "vibe", and was one of the defining aspects that stuck in the mind of the viewer. However, given this is how they kicked off season 9, given a 6 year hiatus on the show, I feel it is something they should have done, which they didn't, to remind the old fans, and the new ones, the tone of the show would be delightfully sarcastic, zany, and very inviting through these relationships, by making the audience a part of the family, and feel as much a part of the show, as the actors, and the host, making it truly genuine improvisation, and really building a strong relationship all around that made it feel Natural.

 The same was done with the celebrities, when they, occasionally, showed up on stage. There presence was natural, defining to the episode, due to it being a rarity, and also didn't make them a centerpiece, but rather, delighted in their style, while letting them into the show's environment, rather that conforming to the reason the celebrity was deemed noteworthy. Further, they were highlighted by being on stage, the Entire time, thus making them feel as if they were part of the Whose Line is it Anyway Family. Season 9 does NOT do this. At all. Rather, what it does is: Has a sketch or two, has the celebrity show up, have the scene conform to why they're famous, they leave, different sketch, they return, sketch related to their area of fame, leaves, different sketch, end-credits featuring celebrity and why they're famous, done.

 Which leads to a major problem in terms of the show's ability to actually have staying power, due to it being focused on the guest stars without making them feel like they are important to the show, leading to a weird issue of focus that just causes the show to feel weaker. Coupled with the lack of relationship inherent to the comedy, and the lack of audience connection to the relationships that really make good improvised comedy, for a show like Whose Line anyhow, leads it feeling weaker and colder and less entertaining.

 Is the improvisation still good? Yes, they still have comedic talent, it's just that it falls behind to the strength of the earlier seasons due to the lack of rapport. I hope they can earnestly build a better relationship soon, over the course of the season, so that we can really get a show that's better than what it currently is. I do admit though, I feel the formula of the celebrity pattern they're using won't fade anytime soon, meaning I might always have this gripe over the show, and the general contrivance that follows their presence always making it feel odd to watch, and make it feel less natural. Where the American Run of Whose Line is it Anyway was founded on creating a very warm atmosphere, that created close bonds with every aspect of the performance involved, whether they be camera men, the host, the audience, and all focused on creating a series of easy to understand and pick up on references, memes, and motifs, each contributing to a very natural feeling to the improvisation that gave it strength in the number of connections that are powerful, but easy to be apart of, whether celebrity or no. The 9th season has decided to become celebrity centric, contriving itself for the guest who dominates the times they are allowed on stage, but is otherwise disconnected from the bonds of the show, and with little interaction between the audience, the host, and the cast, leading to the lack of access to the connection between the triumvirate that is Ryan Stiles, Wayne Brady, and Colin Mocherie, making it feel as a whole less enjoyable, and less natural, so that it doesn't have the same impact, or create a sense of strong identity that the original had.

 However, I stumbled onto a short-lived GSN series, 1 season, 40 episodes, that seems to keep the relationship going, "Drew Carey's Improv-a-ganza", only 10 episodes are on Youtube, and finding all of them on the internet might be blastedly difficult, but it is definitely worth a watch if you enjoy seeing, as the relationship is still very much there, albeit the show isn't quite as good as the American run of Whose Line is it Anyway, but is still better in terms of the inviting relationship that it provides.

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