Here’s a quick review of the episode of Thank God You’re Here that I watched last night.
Thank God You’re Here is a show featuring improvisation. I didn’t like what I saw. Quickly, here’s how it works. Four celebrity contestants perform, one at a time, in a scene. They walk through a door and someone in the scene says “Thank God you’re here!”, then the scene continues with the celebrity trying to improvise their way through the scene. Other actors in the scene are in the know about what the scene is about and act accordingly.
While the concept and format sounds good, the delivery of it mostly fails. Why? Mostly because only one person (the celebrity) is truly doing improv, while everyone else in the scene is obviously following pre-arranged lines and motivations. Trouble is, they often ignore the celebrity’s improv for the sake of the pre-arranged details.
For instance, some woman named Monique (I’ve never heard of her) was the celebrity in a scene where she was a co-host in a game show. The “in on it” co-host actor asked her to tell us who the game show contestants were (a perfectly fine way to force a player to make things up on the spot). She’d say something like “contestant one is Linda from Iowa”, only to be rebuffed by the co-host who’d say “No, that’s actually Rachel from Detroit”. Anyone who knows the basics of improv know that what he did was an improv no-no. If Monique says contestant one is Linda from Iowa, then it’s up to the rest of the players to go along with that. But they didn’t. They thought (I guess) it was funnier to tell Monique she was wrong. I could understand them doing it if the name Rachel and her being from Detroit was important to the scene that followed, but it didn’t matter at all. There were examples of this all through the various scenes. It causes the scenes to be forced, rather than flow naturally from the improvised lines, and when the scenes are forced to go in a specific direction, they are hardly ever entertaining.
In other words, the “in on it” improvisers need to be allowed to improvise rather than be forced to follow the pre-arranged details. I suppose they are pre-detailed so that if the celebrity is particularly bad, then there’s something of a safety net there for everyone. Trouble is, improv shouldn’t have safety nets.
Here were the celebrities from the episode I watched: Monique (or maybe Mo’nique), Kevin Nealon, Richard Kind and Edie McClurg. So, not really the cream of the celebrity crop there. Of the four, Kevin Nealon was the best, and offered hope as to what the show could possibly become. In his scene, maybe because he seemed very sure of himself, the other actors seemed more willing to follow him rather than force him in the direction they were instructed to take him. Still, I thought the scene failed mostly because they insisted on ignoring his offers in favour of the scripted direction they had to take the scene. Edie McClurg’s scene was okay, too, but again was derailed because they insisted on making the scene something they conceived earlier, rather than let it go in the directions that McClurg was taking it. Richard Kind failed pretty much, I thought. There was a short period of entertainment value as he floated kind of helplessly outside his element, but that grew tiresome quickly. Mo’Nique (who “won” last night) was the poorest at improv, I thought, but did have a couple of good toss-off funny lines.
David Alan Grier is the host, and he’s awful, if you ask me. He seems very unsure of himself, and I never found him to be that funny anyway. Again, the word “forced” comes to mind.
Dave Foley is the judge, and his role seems to be to offer feint praise to the celebrity after each scene, and then at the end of the hour announce one of them the winner. it’s all very arbitrary and unnecessary, the judging, and needlessly slows the show down.
If this show was to continue, my advice would be this:
Don’t force the scenes to go in the pre-arranged directions. Allow your improv actors the chance to play with the celebrity to take the scene in unexpected directions.
Get rid of the judging (and the host), unless you make it actually worth something: How about instead of an arbitrary winner each week, the person who wins the week gets to come back for the next round, so that the season progresses towards the finale episode which would have the four best celebrities from the previous heats compete for the title. Even if it was obviously fixed and fake and arbitrary, at least there’d be a little bit of a stake and value in winning.
I’ll probably keep watching, hoping that the show finds its groove. But as it stands now, it’s pretty much a clunker. I’d expect to laugh at least a couple of big laughs during the hour, but honestly there was hardly a chuckle coming from me or my wife last night as we watched.
As I watched, and being the fan of performing improv that I am, I immediately thought “hmm, I wonder if something like that would work here on the Island?”