When The CW announced that it would be reviving the beloved improvised sketch comedy series Whose Line Is It Anyway? for a summer run featuring the original cast and hosted by Aisha Tyler (replacing Drew Carey), I shrugged. Maybe not physically, but certainly in my mind. I’d seen episodes of the show in the past, and laughed heartily at them. But the prospect of a reunion didn’t fill me with rampant enthusiasm. Sure, I was happy to hear that Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles would be returning to the airwaves, and that the show’s well-established traditions would stay intact. I wasn’t even bothered to hear that Carey had decided not to return for the revival – he was always my least favorite part of the original show, with a muted, almost ironic enthusiasm that felt disingenuous to me. But I didn’t expect the show to do much more than return and make its core fans happy.
Having sampled many of the revival’s episodes since it premiered in July, I’m happy to say that I’ve increased my enthusiasm considerably. In fact, I want to offer specific praise for The CW and everyone involved in getting this reunion together for making a savvy business move as well as a solid creative one. This show has a built-in fanbase, costs little to produce, and operates in an easily digestible and recyclable format that doesn’t require or even encourage much in the way of innovation. Furthermore, it’s really fun to watch, and requires little investment from the viewer, who can expend just a half hour per week to watch the show regularly, quickly binge on all of the recent episodes or, as I have done, drop in and out depending on schedule concerns. In an age when broadcast networks are struggling to keep up with the intense serialization and moral complexity of cable’s most beloved shows, perhaps the answer is to go in the other direction entirely. Whose Line Is It Anyway? is the sort of show that will keep network bank accounts humming even as eyeballs shift in bulk from TV to Netflix, streaming and the DVR.
And for viewers who decide to watch this show, however infrequently, they will be rewarded with a high-energy, no-frills extension of the show’s established structure. A different improv comedian joins the core trio each week as Aisha Tyler announces and explains the various games they play for our enjoyment. Stiles, Mochrie and Brady have lost none of their panache, and they’re arguably funnier and more amusingly out-of-place as they age. New games like Magic Mats have mixed in with the older ones unobtrusively. This show is a well-oiled, reliably funny and sunny addition to the television landscape.
Oh, and it’s hosted by a black woman, notable for the sake of diversity and, more importantly, because Aisha Tyler has proved to be a bouncy, sassy improvement over the more languid Carey. She’s established a playful rapport with the cast (“One of you is going to have to give me a hug without creeping me out,” she joked during a recent episode), and she’s charmingly self-deprecating when she errs. She also seems to be genuinely enjoying herself, laughing heartily during every sketch and frequently engaging with the performers during her bits. Another credit to whoever chose Tyler as Carey’s replacement – she adds the fresh vibe that an update like this needs and that the original players probably lack.
I don’t want to overpraise the Whose Line update too much. The gimmick (likely a network upgrade) of inviting a “special celebrity guest” to most of the recent episodes has added little to the show, except to demonstrate how well the regulars make a difficult job look easy. Plus, I have a hard time believing anyone even knows who Lauren Cohan, Kevin McHale, Candice Accola, Kyle Richards and Wilson Bethel are, let alone cares how they’ll perform alongside the cast of Whose Line.
But I like the idea that, if I’m in a bad mood, I can pull up a recent episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and expect to smile and laugh for the next twenty minutes. And I can be assured that that opportunity will be available for a while now: The CW has smartly renewed the revival for another season of 24 episodes. I say bring ’em on. So, really, whose line is it, anyway?