Square Eyes #2 – The return of improvised comedy?

January 15, 2011

British Comedy seems to have lost something in recent years. We’ve got plenty of stand-up, satire and even the sitcom is doing well again. But we seem to have lost the spontaneity, the genius of live and unrehearsed comedy. The sort of improvisational magic that was created in the 90’s by ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’. But BBC2’s new Friday night show ‘Fast and Loose’ (which started last night) hopes to rectify that.

Hugh Dennis takes the hosts chair as every week the country’s comedy performers improvise their way through as series of ‘hilarious’ games. Sound familiar? That’s because it is virtually the same format of ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’. But who could blame producer Dan Patterson from going back to his roots, the original was after all an instant hit.

As a very big fan of ‘Whose Line’ I have been looking forward to this ‘revival’ for a while, but would it capture the craziness and originality of the previous show?

Sadly not. I can remember howling with laughter at some of the games in ‘Whose Line’, whereas ‘Fast and Loose’ brought little more that a smile to my face. The format however, was virtually identical to the show I used to love. Hugh Dennis would present a game to the performers which they would then act out, improvised on the spot. The games were also very similar with both ‘worlds worst’ and ‘film styles’ appearing virtually unaltered.

So why didn’t it work. Simply put, it was the performers. I don’t mean to be harsh (or ignorant) but the only comedian I had heard of before last night was Greg Davies (and thats only thanks to the fantastic ‘Inbetweeners’). The rest have clearly not made their mark in mainstream comedy yet and for obvious reasons. I could have come up with better instant reactions to the jokes than they could. If your character is ‘upset because you’ve been jilted at the altar’, at least make it subtle rather than blurting out these words in your first sentence!

For shows like this to work, you need people who can do improvised comedy. The prime examples being Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie, the two men who carried ‘Whose Line’ and made an appearance on every single show. And perhaps this is why improvised comedy isn’t as mainstream as I’d like it to be, it’s just too difficult to get right and too variable to make a solid show.

Having said all that, the show had it’ moments. I genuinely enjoyed the interpretive dance of George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ (sounds weird I know!). I also thought (despite insulting the ‘talent’ earlier) that Marek Larwood put in a sterling performance and was really quite a funny guy. Hope he gets more TV work in the future.

There was of course also the finale, which saw three of the performers acting a scene whilst laying on a mat. This was then filmed from above so it looked like a 2D cartoon style scene. I did find this pretty amusing (Marek was agin particularly good in this), but you do have to wonder if three comedians clambering around on the floor isn’t just the most dumbed down thing you’v ever seen!

‘Fast and Loose’ wasn’t a brilliant show, but it did show a real potential. The games are good and Hugh does a good job as host. Just get some better guests (not necessarily famous, juts good at improv) and quiet down the screeching audience and this show could just come good.

Lets not forget that all the best shows take time to grow, even the original ‘Whose Line’.

You can catch ‘Fast and Loose’ Friday’s at 10 on BBC2 or watch the first ep now on BBC iPlayer