Did anyone watch Thank God You're Here last night?
As an improviser and someone who's really fed up with the same old crap on television, I was really looking forward to it, but . . .
Though there were a few laugh out loud moments (Bryan Cranston absolutely killed me, and Edie McClurg was great, too) but I was disappointed, and then really annoyed that the producers consistently broke the two cardinal rules of improv: Don't ever block an offer, and when you accept an offer, accept it fully with "yes, and . . ." or "not only that, but . . ."
What that means is, if I enter a scene and say, "I have this basket for you, sir!" You take the basket, open it, and say, "There's a bomb inside!"
That builds the scene, raises the stakes, and keeps things going. (What we have now is probably a scene about
diffusing¹ defusing the bomb; good improvisers will probably make diffusing¹ defusing the bomb a task to focus on while they reveal all sorts of information about their characters and their relationship.)
Now, if I come in and say, "I have this basket for you, sir!" And you reply, "That's not a basket, it's a baby!" The audience may giggle a bit, because I mistook the baby for a basket, but you've just blocked my offer, derailed the scene, and now we're probably going to argue about what I really have in my hands.
Usually, performers block offers when they think they have a brilliant idea that they've built up ahead of time, that they just can't wait to give to the audience. On Thank God, it feels like the producers have a bunch of gags set up that they want to get out, so rather than let the actors and improvisers build a scene organically. As a result, the scenes never get a chance to take off and smoothly build to their natural conclusion; instead, the audience waits for the next question and its associated joke.
A commenter at TV Squad said "I think this was pitched to NBC as all the wackiness of improv with the safety and stability of scripted TV." I think that's pretty accurate, because that's how it came off.
I thought it was a great format, though, and I loved the idea of thrusting the actors into a character, including wardrobe and everything, just moments before they're pushed into a scene.
Here's what I would do to make the show more enjoyable:
- Let the main cast really interact with the guest actors, instead of putting them on rails and forcing them to just prompt the guests with question after question. Encourage them to "yes, and . . ." with each other so the scenes can grow naturally.
- Quit blocking and denying offers because some writer wants to get their hilarious joke on the air. If it's an improv show, let them improv. The denying in the game show scene with Mo'nique was absolutely painful to watch, and I thought she was a champ for committing to it anyway.
- Make sure the actors they ask onto the show have at least some improv experience; watching great comedic actors struggle because they don't have a script didn't entertain me as much as it made me uncomfortable.
If you saw the show, what did you think?
¹ Yeah, that should be defusing, not diffusing. I knew the word didn't look right, but I have apparently picked up a very serious case of the stupids recently.