When the American version of Whose Line Is It, Anyway? was canceled, it was a sad day for those fans of TV improv comedy who were still watching after all those seasons and time slot changes. When Drew Carey and friends reformatted and relaunched on the WB as Drew Carey’s Green Screen, it just wasn’t the same to me. When a live version of basically the same shtick and troupe was recorded for the Game Show Network as Drew Carey’s Improv-a-Ganza, it was closer to the mark, but only lasted through late-spring/early-summer 2011.
For a limited time only, improv has returned to ABC once more, minus a few faces. Trust Us with Your Life is missing Carey and longtime cohort Ryan Stiles, but the Tuesday night summer series aims for much the same ambience. Returning vets such as Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie, Greg Proops, Brad Sherwood, and Jonathan Mangum (from Improv-a-Ganza, not WLIIA) are ordered around by replacement host Fred Willard into improv games adapted from a British show called Fast and Loose (which in turn was created by one of the original mind behind the original British WLIIA). Rather than a series of competitions where points are awarded even though they don’t really matter, now the games are instead loopy, inspired-by recreations of anecdotes from the lives of assorted celebrity guests of varying caliber.
So far our old friends are a treat to see again, though I wish Willard was an active performer instead of being relegated to mere host duties. Of all the games aired thus far, the funniest and least cribbed from WLIIA is “Sideways Scene”, in which three of our funnymen reenact a tale while lying sideways on an orange mat but filmed from overhead, creating fun discomfort from gravity and crawling around and over each other. (It’s funnier than it sounds.) Guest participation has varied:
* Episode 1: Tennis star Serena Williams. She seemed to enjoy every minute of it, but I was a little bugged that half the jokes were Wayne Brady complimenting her figure. This became repetitive and just a little voyeuristic.
* Episode 2: Jack and Kelly Osbourne. I never watched their world-famous MTV reality show and had few preconceptions about them beyond their bizarre fashion choices of years past. They seemed like well-adjusted siblings with the expected rivalries and embarrassing dirt on each other, perhaps because they’ve caroused together one time too many. Our improv all-stars seemed on fire, but when called upon to impersonate their famous father, I was annoyed that no one could remember the difference between his daily mumbling and his much clearer, louder singing voice.
Episode 3: Mark Cuban. Never heard of him. Apparently he’s a buff millionaire who was once a Pittsburgh bouncer and now owns a basketball team. The cast had fun with his occasionally lewd life stories, my ignorance notwithstanding.
Episode 4: Ricky Gervais. All his responses to Willard’s questions appeared to have been edited heavily due to either excessive length or simple incredulity. After some awkward opening segments about his non-idyllic childhood, he seemed to enjoy himself the most when asked to participate in a sketch where all his dialogue was provided by Colin. It’s hard to go wrong when Colin is in charge.
ABC is showing two episodes per week, Tuesdays at 9 EDT. The Internet says only eight were filmed, so this may soon be a blip in TV history. I plan to enjoy them while I can, though the promise that one of next week’s guests is Jerry Springer is not exactly enticing.