TV Review: DREW CAREY'S IMPROV-A-GANZA; whose format is it, anyway?

Atrocious title aside, this improvised comedy gameshow is a worthier successor to Whose Line Is It Anyway's crown than BBC2's recent Fast & Loose, primarily because it's the same basic show with only minor differences. A svelte Drew Carey (host of Whose Line's US remake) ostensibly takes charge, supported by a bunch of all-star improvisers: Whose Lineveterans Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, Greg Proops, Chip Esten, Jeff Davis and Brad Sherwood, teamed with Jonathan Magnum and Sean Masterson from Drew Carey's Green Screen (a short-lived post-Whose Line improv show), and joined by Kathy Kinney and MADtv's Heather Anne Campbell. The series was shot at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, giving Improv-A-Ganza the unshakeable feel of Whose Line Is It Anyway: Live In Vegas. It's pretty much the same format, just with a more impressive stage and trivial tweaking. The biggest change is the lack of a "host" to coordinate everything. Despite Drew Carey's name being in the title, the performers themselves marshal each game, venturing out into the audience to select volunteers to bring up on stage to get involved. The feel of a "live show" is increased by noticing most of the audience are drinking alcohol, and in the first episode Colin Mochrie gets more than he bargained for when he chooses a drunken woman to assist with a game, and the tipsy lady's inebriation ends up being the funniest part of the episode. On the one hand, I'm relieved Improv-A-Ganza hasn't strayed too far from Whose Line's trailblazing example, by simply giving that show a more sophisticated, lounge-like atmosphere. On the other hand, it's not offering much to differentiate itself from Whose Line's content, as many games are near-identical. The presence of so many familiar faces is comforting and nostalgic, but also slightly sad. Mochrie's remaining hair's turned snow white, Stiles' doughy face is starting to resemble a shammy leather. They're as sharp as ever individually, and a superb double-act, but repeats of Whose Line are so ubiquitous that you forget these guys aren't the relatively young men they were in the '90s. There's something quite melancholy about seeing them in their fifties. I disliked Fast & Loose because it never involved the audience, and thus made it impossible to believe it wasn't half-scripted, but at least it was bringing a new group of performers to wider attention. Improv-A-Ganza is mostly reliant on the Whose Line regulars, who've been doing this kind of thing for decades. I still find Stiles and Mochrie hilarious, but they're symbolic of an old TV show that's had its time. It may have been wiser to ensure Improv-A-Ganza was introducing fresh and exciting new talent, with familiar faces occasionally dropping in as guests. Overall, Drew Carey's Improv-A-Ganza has its ups and downs, but ultimately it's a half-hour of talented improvisers doing what they do best in an atmospheric setting. You can't really beat the likes of Proops, Sherwood, Mochrie and Stiles when it comes to think-on-your-feet comedy; they each have a such lightning-quick minds it makes most improvisers look like stammering, braindead fools. So it's a pleasure to watch them perform again, even if it would be improved even further by simply re-launching Whose Line Is It Anyway? -- which has a more effective format, faster turnaround of games, and less slack. Expect to see clips of Improv-A-Ganza's second episode doing the rounds online soon, as a pre-meltdown Charlie Sheen makes a guest appearance for a game. I'm not making that up.

TRANSMISSION: 11 April 2011, Game Show Network, 8PM

Dan Owen hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.