Thursday, November 04, 2004

Doc's Obscure TV Review Of The Day: Drew Carey's Green Screen Show

This is Drew Carey's new improv show, where, after the performers make up skits on the spot, the scenes are sent to pro animators who fill in the imaginary backgrounds and objects the performers describe.

I was a big Whose Line Is It Anyway? fan. I find improv comedy hilarious. When it's well done it's great. The tension of knowing that everybody's working without a net and could screw up at any time adds something special to performances. If you knew everything was scripted, the show wouldn't be nearly as funny. Part of the humor comes from the pressure you know the performers are feeling, and that you're feeling with them.

When it's done poorly, though, it's really, really painful. It's a bunch of people prancing around like idiots, and that's the entertainment equivalent of watching people drown. Not the best way to spend your time.

Drew Carey's Green Screen Show, fortunately, isn't that bad. The improv folks know what they're doing. Unfortunately, the green screen aspect seems to take more away from the improv format than it adds to it. I don't know why this would be. Maybe it feels like a safety net, because the animation was all added in later, so it takes away the spontaneity of the show.

But I think the real reason is this--part of the humor of improv comedy comes from figuring out what's going on. Humor is, to a large degree, about the moment when you "get" a joke--that connection that gets made in your brain activates some type of pleasure center and makes you laugh.

A lot of improv humor is funny the same way pantomime can be funny--it gives you lots of chances to make connections in your brain. When Red Skelton is pantomiming showing a button, and he suddenly winces and sucks his thumb, we laugh because our brain had to make the connection that he'd hurt himself.

But if the needle was drawn in, and blood was drawn in squirting from his thumb, we've lost the chance to make that connection on our own. In a very real way, this means the moment has lost its humor.

So the show's okay. I try to watch it, if I'm available. Some of the animation is even fun. But it still doesn't stack up to my imagination.

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