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“Hope you enjoyed watching the Drew Carey Show just now.”

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 3. The Callback.

In its sixth season The Sopranos pulled off possibly the most groundbreaking hour of television history in ‘Join the Club’. In it, showrunner David Chase dedicates a majority of the episode to the comatose dreams of his protagonist, Tony Soprano. As a viewer it changed my perceptions of what television could be. For a full hour the series tossed aside plot and conventional story telling in favor of the inner thoughts, psychoses and irrational fears of our lead. At first glance the third episode of Whose Line Is It, Anyway? appears to be a normal, run-of-the-mill half hour of television, but after sitting with it for days it becomes clear that this is no normal episode of Whose Line: ‘The Callback’ takes place entirely in the (dreaming?) mind of Drew Carey. Unfortunately, it falls short of The Sopranos.

It’s odd that an episode this daring would come so early in the series run. It’s also odd that they would never clue the audience in on what was happening. Instead they leave it to the viewer to put the convoluted pieces together. If you’re starting the series with ‘The Callback’ I highly suggest going back and watching the first two episodes so you have some context for the happenings this week. However if you’re the impatient type I’ll get you up to speed with a plot summary: Drew Carey runs a short form improv television show and is slowly descending into moral ambiguity. He makes people perform for him and then awards them ‘meaningless points’ based on no discernable criteria other than his own fancy. Also sometime between episode one and two he murdered Greg Proops (I believe, although they have not made this clear) and replaced him with a young Brad Sherwood. Like I said, a lot has happened.

Now, in episode three, we see the tortured inner workings of Drew Carey’s unconscious. And it is frightening. I’ll admit it took me a few repeat viewings (around four) to understand the episode’s framework, but once I figured it out the rest of the episode fell suitably into place.

We open with Drew hollering the introductions: “Whatever you do, don’t step in him, Greg Proops!” Greg Proops? Has he returned from exile? Come back to life? I’ll admit we never saw Proops getting killed, they simply left it to conjecture, so it’s possible that he just ‘took a week off’, but this doesn’t seem to fit in the same world that Drew Carey runs with a dictatorial fist. From where I sit there are two possibilities: Greg took a week off, OR, in a move akin to (spoiler alert) Tony Soprano’s Big Pussy, Greg was killed off and now lives on in Drew’s unconsciousness, playing weird newscasters and guessing party quirks in a haunted dream. For my money, I’m going with the later. Occam’s razor states that the simplest answer is usually correct, but it fails to mention that the simplest answer is usually worse television.

Not convinced? Neither was I at first. But for the third episode in a row the first game is ‘The Dating Game’. This is needlessly redundant, that is unless we are living in a dream. We then have a direct callback by forcing Greg to again be the bachelorette, the part he embraced before his untimely demise. It is the EXACT SAME STAGE PICTURE as when we first met these characters. Could this be Drew remembering fond times with a friend he can no longer have? Tony going fishing with Big Puss? I think so.

But the final nail in the coffin comes when Drew dives into an unforeseen level of meta: “Welcome to Whose Line is it, Anyway?, hope you enjoyed The Drew Carey Show just now.” Not only is he aware that he’s on a television show, he also knows exactly where he is in the ABC Primetime lineup. He is stepping outside of himself, seeing his life in the third person. A common trope in dream analysis.

And we close the show while Drew stands in front of a green screen attempting to figure out what is projected behind him (King Kong). The imagery could not be clearer: fantastical happenings surround him, yet he tries his best to make sense of what is going on. Sleep well Drew, because you’re in a nightmare.

With such an ambitious undertaking, I’m sad to say that this episode just didn’t deliver. It comes down to a question of clarity. If they had just a few clues for us that we were in Drew’s dream, I would have given it an A+ instantly, for it’s breadth and scope. But if you’re going to attempt something this strange in the third episode, I’m sorry Drew, but you have to bring your audience along.

This isn’t Twin Peaks. This is Whose Line Is It, Anyway?

LAST THOUGHTS OF A RANDOM NATURE

  • One last piece of evidence…. Colin mispronounces the word “Bus” and Drew practically chokes on his coffee he’s laughing so hard. Could this be Dream Drew trying to wake himself up?
  • One more. At one point Drew gives Ryan “1000 points for reading my mind”. Throw the subtlety out the window, I guess, because we’re ALL in your mind.
  • Throughout the episode Drew appears to be threatened by Wayne Brady’s sexuality. “If you’re a lady you’ll love Wayne Brady”… “1000 points for Wayne. The ladies love the way he walks.” Later Drew bows to him. I sense a new Alpha… or we might see recourse once we leave this dream episode.
  • “Michael Jackson, a wonderful singer and an even better head coach.” I don’t understand this line.
  • “If you’re watching on a tv that’s made in America, we’re all naked right now.” I was watching on my computer so I can’t verify if this is true or not.
  • Drew says that ‘Greatest Hits’ is his favorite game. No real point here, but I find it fascinating that he has a favorite. If that is really true I don’t understand why he doesn’t make the cast do this game over and over again for a half hour.
  • Colin was really silly when he played a guy getting drunk and I thought it was funny and goofy and laughed a bunch. What a funny guy!

Previously: "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" Recap. Season 1, Episode 2: “The Initiation”

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