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August 22, 2013

The experts that recap television shows for a living all agree: We are living in a golden age of television. But the HBO and AMC shows we love today were influenced and shaped by the classic shows of yesterday. We look at those shows. This week: Whose Line Is It Anyway, Season 1, Episode 1. Pilot.

“I’m your host Drew Carey… come on let’s have some fun.”

The experts that recap television shows for a living all agree: We are living in a golden age of television. But the HBO and AMC shows we love today were influenced and shaped by the classic shows of yesterday. We look at those shows. This week: Whose Line Is It Anyway, Season 1, Episode 1. Pilot.

Don Draper. Walter White. Tony Soprano. Stringer Bell. These characters have two things in common: One, they were icons of the television screen. And two, they all had lines. But what would happen to these beloved characters if they were stripped of their lines, and their ‘emotional story arch’ was replaced by ‘short form improv games’. Back in 1998 one show attempted to do this. Starring Drew Carey, Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, Wayne Brady and Greg Proops, ‘Whose Line is it Anyway?’ was the first show to really break down the pillars of television structure, point a mirror at the audience and truly ask them: “Hey. Whose line is it, anyway?”

I’ve been putting off watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? for years. Because of my addictive personality I often fall head first into a binge-watching spiral. Shows like The Wire, Sopranos and Mad Men chewed me up and spit me out months later, as oblivious to the world around me as Betty Draper on a good day. So with over 200 episodes to it’s name I’ve avoided Whose Line like the plague, knowing that I’d likely get sucked into the underlying drama of our cast and our flawed protagonist Drew Carey. But when Funny Or Die approached me to start writing television recaps of classic tv shows, only one came to mind. So I sat down, pen and paper in hand, ready to dive into the mysterious world that ABC Family had in store.

The first episode does not disappoint, laying down the subtle groundwork for the emotional journey ahead. We’re immediately welcomed by the host/improvisational-dungeon-master himself, The Price Is Right’s own Mr. Carey. His cheerful (yet ominous) voice sets the tone for the rest of the episode: “Welcome to Who’s Line is it Anyway...” he hollers, while we the viewer are subjected to the title screen: four pink human outlines trapped inside the letter O, unable to escape the Sisyphean nature of their animated lives.

The dichotomy could not be clearer… these people will entertain you… but at a cost to themselves.

In reading other recaps of the episode around the internet (surprisingly few I should add) I’m shocked that others have not picked up on this somewhat simple imagery. Especially considering that the next two minutes continue to emphasize this point. Drew introduces the cast of tonight’s ‘show’ and then, directly before belittling and forcing Colin to act as an ‘Excitable Dog’ in a fake dating game he states: “Welcome to Whose Line Is It Anyway. The show where everything is made up and the points don’t matter.”

This is patently false. “The show where everything is made up” itself is a lie: a line clearly written ahead of time. But the next line sent a chill down my spine. They claim the points don't matter. And yet, by definition, the points do matter. Points are a tool with which to measure success. If we are to believe the points don't matter our entire system of beliefs must crumble, but then to say that ONE MAN is able to throw away these rules? Give them out on a whim to people performing exclusively for him? Often times sexual in nature (at one point the cast is forced to wear silly hats and say silly things and our host declares he doesn’t know how many points they got because he was busy TAKING OFF HIS PANTS!)? This is the stuff of dystopian novels. Wayne Brady now has no points. He has always never had any points. Sound familiar?

Thus we are introduced to the anti-hero of Whose Line Is It Anyway? Already we can see the seeds of corruption building behind the thick horn-rimmed glasses that have come to define Mr. Drew Carey. I’m very excited to see where this goes as the season progresses.

We then watch a bunch of short form improv games which, frankly, seem secondary to the plot. I could get into the minor dynamics of how Colin Mochrie is repeatedly put down for his male pattern baldness or how Wayne Brady is forced to sing songs that don’t exist, but these ‘games’ seem extraneous to the show. Simply a device with which we can examine Drew Carey’s slow decent into moral ambiguity, a foreshadowing device as we watch Drew Carey ‘yes and’ himself from silly improv host to totalitarian overlord.

It’s an intriguing show. At times dated, but this pilot episode laid down the groundwork for possibly one of the greatest television character arcs of all time. Don Draper. Walter White. Tony Soprano. Stringer Bell. Drew Carey.


- Two questions hover over this show:
1. Whose Line Is It, Anyway?
2. Will we ever find out?
Only time will tell I guess. The show runners have done a wonderful job concealing this mystery. In the hands of an amateur this would have been obvious: “You know my father worked in the line business.” They do an excellent job keeping us on our toes.
- They claim in the beginning that Ryan Stiles is Colin Mochrie’s son. If this is true I hope we dive into it a little deeper in upcoming episodes. There is a lot there that I feel we could explore, especially considering how different they look and how they appear to be relatively the same age.
- In that same intro Drew declares that Wayne Brady is “What’s For Dinner.” Should we be worried?
- Greg Proops is my favorite character so far. I can’t wait to see how his character arc develops. I suspect he’ll become a much more central character moving forward.
- “Normally I'd give Wayne all the points but something in the way Greg was tapping his toes… see me in my trailer.” Sexual Harassment.
- In previews for the new seasons I see there is a new ‘improv overlord’ in Aisha Tyler. I'm very curious to see how this transition of power takes place. And if Aisha will fall into the same ‘points’ trap. History repeats itself.
- I liked when they wore the silly hats. They made silly voices and it made me laugh.