What comes around, goes around, and comes around again.

Improvisation has again tried to make a comeback on to tellies around the nation – albeit on Dave but it’s trying.

If you’re a regular reader you may remember I blogged about the last attempt to revive the improvisation genre, shortly after I started going to drop-ins, and promptly slated it – the host was up himself and unfunny, the games were repetitive, the ‘improvising’ was quite obviously pre-scripted for the most part and I couldn’t get an idea of how good the performers actually were at improvising.

To the producers’ credit,”Improvisation, My Dear Mark Watson” have gone, as far as I can tell, in completely the opposite direction on all counts.

I’ve never heard of the titular host before so, for me at least, it’s a completely blank slate as far as his talents go.

The idea of a visible physical studio has been done away with, and everything is entirely green-screen, excluding the performers’ benches and the host’s desk, but including the performers’ bodies on one occasion – more on this later.

The performers were bigged-up as “some of the UK’s best comedians” in contrast to the unknown performers last time (aside from one familiar to me from ‘Whose Line’).

As for the variety of games, this was a pilot so it remains to be seen if a) the show gets a series commissioned and b) the games differ next time round.

That’s the show in a nutshell. Now here’s what I think.

I approached it in a cautious manner, given the letdown of the last attempt, and I needn’t have raised my hopes as far as I did. By going to the opposite end of the spectrum in every respect it’s offended me just as much. Firstly the green-screen.

I didn’t think it would help the show in any way when I first saw the wash of green appear in the studio. It must have been at some expense as the first few minutes of (the pilot of) this ‘improvisation’ show was spent showing of the technology and, probably unintentionally, demonstrating why its applications in the televisual arts should be limited to the weather and films with big post production budgets. In short it turned the whole show into something resembling an online flash game.

In one round it was seemingly too much hassle for the cartoon artists to draw side on versions of the characters superimposed on the performers, meaning while they were obviously performing side-on, as has been known to happen in live performance, the cartoon superimpositions were inanimately standing square and the television audience had no insight into anything other than half of the performers facial expressions.

The backgrounds distracted from the performers in much the same way a streaker on stage would distract from a performance of Shakespeare.

The words appearing on screen in one round resembled a Powerpoint presentation from a ten year old who has only just discovered the button for text transitions and is using it for everything, although they did distract from how bad some of the improvised rapping was.

In another round the performers were meant to be in the Tardis as it appears from the outside i.e. small. They were representing this confined space perfectly well for the studio audience, but spectators viewing from home had a cartoonish drawing that didn’t match the performers’ representation and thus detracted from the believability of the scene.

As a whole the show suffered from overusing the green-screen because it was there instead of if it would benefit the program or scene. It was set up as being what differentiated it from other improvisation shows, but in the end it seriously impacted from the quality of it.

Next up were the performers. As already mentioned, these were billed as “some of the UK’s best comedians”, and fine comedians they may have been but being funny on stage, with the same routine for weeks on end that’s taken weeks and months to perfect, doesn’t always equate to a good, spur of the moment improviser. Can you guess why?

Some of the performers were quite slow off the mark in the first round, which, along with the superimposed background and text, didn’t give me the best excuse to carry on watching.

To the show’s credit, this did reveal that whilst the ideas for scenes may have not been all that improvised, they at least seemed new to the performers, and gave it that air of improv authenticity.

Lastly the host. Like the show in general he was a victim of overusing the green-screen and doing things just to show it off as the unique point of the show. The monologue demonstrating it at the beginning got boring very quickly, and a couple of other instances of host-performer-green-screen interaction would have been a lot better without the green-screen element. Otherwise he was fairly capable, and fortunately not instantly unlikable as the last, and could probably settle into the role quite well.

As a little finishing point, I’ve just discovered an article previewing Fast and Loose (the last attempt at televised improv), which points out exactly was wrong with it, and completely overlooks it –

“How much of this allegedly improvised show is actually made up on the spot and how much has been scripted and rehearsed is a matter of debate.

But if you can overlook this glaring infringement of comedy trading standards it’s still a very funny – and surprisingly clean – show about 75 per cent of the time.”

Jack out.


About Jack
A small-time traveller in a big-time world

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