By Margaret Hicks in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 19, 2007 1:37PM
Okay, so last night after a rousing episode of “Lost” (oooh, it’s getting so good again), we sat down to watch “Thank God You’re Here”. The show originally aired in Australia where it was the most successful new show in 2006. Parts of it were painful to watch and parts of it – well – parts of it weren’t so bad. We thought Chelsea Handler was okay, taking the easy way out sometimes with her poop jokes. Shannon Elizabeth predictably went straight for the sex, but Tom Green’s clumsy plumber and George Takei’s “neck doctor” were actually pretty funny. There’s no denying that the show would be a thousand times more enjoyable if the core cast (including Nyima Funk and Maribeth Monroe from Second City) improvised with the guests instead of trying to hit certain beats and spit out fabricated lines. We thought the end where everyone came out to improvise was a clusterfuck, but it wasn't terrible and we actually laughed out loud a few times.
We touched a bit on it yesterday, but the question remains, can improv ever translate successfully to television?
Shows like “Lifegame”, “Whose Line is it Anyway”, and now “Thank God You’re Here” have all tried. The only one (for now) that’s even had mild success is “Whose Line”. Many improvisers credit “Whose Line” as the show that got them interested in improv in the first place. It may not be the longer, slower, more artful improv that is now being practiced around Chicago, but at least it was true short-form improv, as opposed to the half-scripted “Thank God You’re Here”.
Bravo tried an hour long show with A.S.S.S.S.C.A.T. a few years ago. If a cast with Tina Fey, Horatio Sans, Amy Poehler and Andy Richter can’t pull it off, who can? Can a long-form show, like the kind practiced at I.O., The Annoyance, or any other bar in the city, ever have a successful run on the tube? Chicagoist can’t help but think that the general American public still doesn’t have the foggiest idea what improv is really about, and until the art becomes more mainstream through shows like “TGYH”, long-form will never be marketable to the masses.
We also wonder if improv can stand on its own two feet at all. We know sketch shows can be successful on the box, but like some commenters mentioned yesterday, improv is so fleeting and so wildly chancy, maybe TV will never be its venue. There’s a difference between watching T.J. and Dave at I.O. with a drink and some friends, and watching some strangers on TV try to pull rabbits out of their asses for some laughs. What do you think? Can improv ever be successful on TV?