It’s been 25 years since Whose Line Is It Anyway? began a decade-long run on British television, and about seven years since an American version concluded about eight years of telecasts on ABC. But the format of the improvisational comedy can still provide laughs in the right, uninhibited hands, as will be clear beginning Tuesday.
The CW is offering new installments of Whose Line beginning at 8 p.m. Tuesday with back-to-back half-hours. Aisha Tyler has succeeded Drew Carey as host, but the regular performers include Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie, veterans of the British and ABC shows, and Wayne Brady, whose rise to fame really began with the ABC series.
As with previous versions, the show features four improvisers who are given different tasks by Tyler or from audience suggestions, and then must figure out on the spot what to do. It may be as simple as coming up with a line you wouldn’t want to hear in a weight-loss commercial, or as complicated as having two performers play all the gadgets the other two would use on a vacation trip. (And, in that sketch, they had to play toboggans, hang gliders and seats on a ski lift. Really.)
It’s very silly, often risque, full of surprises and laughs — but not all that easy to do. That was clear back in the ‘90s, when I watched a show taping — two hours of hard work to generate enough material for a couple of half-hour shows. And it’s clear again in three episodes made available for preview. (The CW did not say when those specific telecasts would air.)
The panelists joining Brady, Mochrie and Stiles — Gary Anthony Williams, Heather Ann Campbell, and Keegan Michael Key — are skilled enough. But the CW version also brings in celebrity guests, among them Glee’s Kevin McHale, The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan, and The Vampire Diaries’ Candice Accola, and even ties bits to the guests’ shows. McHale works pretty well, and Accola is all right but given easier tasks than the others. (Could it be the show was extra nice to a CW star?) Cohan, however, was mostly out of her depth.
And still the show cracked me up. Even when the bits were straight out of the old show, or a gag from one new episode was reprised in another one, the goofiness worked as well as it has for decades.