Scenes From A Hat
The new Whose Line Is It Anyway? gets it half right.
Earlier this year, the American version of Whose Line Is It Anyway returned to rescue us from the drudgery of using foam pool noodles for their intended purpose, and reminding us that a lot of everyday objects are phallic. Whose Line is coming off of an eight-year "hiatus" for this ninth season, and it's amazing how much of the show remains the same -- and how much the show also gets wrong in its return.
The returning strength of the show is its core: Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, and Wayne Brady (well, debatable). These three men, particularly Stiles and Mochrie, are fantastic at playing on unexpected, but recognizable, comedic tropes in their scene work. Wayne Brady is very good at rhyming lyrics if you're into that kind of thing.
But Whose Line, never a perfect show, has come back with myriad new and inherited problems.
First off, there's a whole new group of hair jokes that can be made now that Colin Mochrie's remaining hair has gone bone white, creating an intense toe-head any time he bends over. In other words: the cast has gotten old, problematically old. The once goofy-dad energy has turned into silly-grandpa energy. While Mochrie and Stiles look more and more like grandparents, Brady still looks very well preserved, but is still too "mature" to dress in the tight leather he often favors. Honestly, it seems kind of cruel to force these older men to clown around on a Burbank soundstage in front of an audience of confused Midwestern tourists.
The new host, Aisha Tyler is, surprisingly, imperfectly suited to the current iteration of Whose Line. Aisha Tyler has in the past proven herself to be a great host and an incredible wit, but there seems to be some dissonance between her and the main players. Her presence on the show has changed the friendly dynamic of earlier seasons. Drew Carey was always in dialog with the performers, interrupting scenes with his laughter and often serving as a punchline to jokes. But it seems that the core performers don't know how to engage with Tyler, confused by the pretty younger woman in their midst.
Whose Line is also struggling with the inclusion of network-television "celebrities." Stars of CW shows and others, duped by their publicists, are trotted out around the 15-minute mark to do a scene with some of the improvisers. Once again the disparity in age between the young "celebs" and the Whose Line players creates problems. Notably, the improvisers handicap themselves attempting to be polite. When the guest is a woman, the improvisers fall all over themselves to avoid coming off like old perverts.
The biggest problem of the show may be its failure to update for the "internet age." I'm not suggesting that this show be turned into another At Midnight (frankly, Chris Hardwick is just too busy to take on any more work), but this show feels analog in a digital world. Tyler, an early host of The Soup, should know better. Relying on props like rubber tubes and pieces of foam to generate comedy when the infinite inspiration of the internet is available seems a little "kids' party." Watching this new Whose Line can feel like watching a vaudeville troop failing to adapt in the age of cinema.
The solution to most of the problems of this iteration of Whose Line is fairly simple: it needs to expand its roster of improvisers. As much as I enjoy the original players, their comic sensibilities feel almost quaint now, and there are literally thousands of incredibly talented improvisers and comedians this show could be swapping in with the core three from time to time. Whose Line has proven its ability to attract such talent -- this year, they've already had amazing guest players like Keegan Michael Key and Nyima Funk. With only one revolving seat on the stage, there's very little room to showcase new, perhaps more relevant voices.