I feel like I treat, well, bad one-off performances during the Series 5-10 era of UK WL differently than the bad one-off performances in the first bit of the run. From Series’ 1 to 4, the show was finding their groove, and were relying on a ton of different options and seeing which ones stuck and which didn’t- giving bad choices like Richard Kaplan, George McGrath and Jan Ravens a shot, and it not going well, can be chalked up to the production just giving different performers a try.
However, now that Whose Line has a specific brand, and is stick with the sort of Ryan-Colin-Greg/Josie-Tony-Steve Frost type formula, the bad performers are a bit more jarring, because the tone is established and they simply don’t fit with it. And that’s honestly where tonight’s one-off fits in- Russell Fletcher is an Australian comic and improviser, and it doesn’t really say how much else he did. So fitting him with Ryan, Greg and Josie, three people who ARE good at this sort of thing, especially now that we KNOW they’re good at this sort of thing, is a bit suspect. But here we go anyway.
Film and Theatre Styles v1: Greg and Ryan (repairing a space station)
As they walk upstage, Greg and Ryan are just playfully bouncing in unison. Ah, the start-of-the-taping energy. This will not last.
The scene begins with some pretty nice corresponding physicality and sound effects, and a nice amount of silence. You can tell these two are pros.
I didn’t think Ryan and Greg would be able to emulate the Restoration Comedy style, but they actually manage to nail it…though, befit to American ideologies.
Ryan: [beeping noises]
Ryan and Greg: [posh british laughing]
Escape movie, as Ryan escapes from the space station
Greg: “…you’ve forgotten your AIR HOSE you daft git…”
Clive buzzes in as Ryan’s still outside the space station
Clive: “Courtroom drama”
Greg: “…ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I stand alone….the defendant is outside, turning blue, and various colors of purple.”
Once they get back to the seats, once they double down on close-ups of Ryan and Greg, you can see, in Ryan’s, Josie’s hand brushing up against his face. At least that means she’s in a better mood tonight than she was in Series 4.
Film and Theatre Styles v2 – Josie and Russell (in the Australian outback)
So…they’re catering to Russell’s heritage right off the bat?
Clive: “Australian soap?”
Russell: “too hard.”
Josie starts the scene by explaining to Russell “I’m sorry, darling, but I’m not used to these Australian barbecues” in her usual British accent. Then she breaks into her regular, more Northern voice, and turns to the audience and goes “well, that’s got me out of the accent problem, hasn’t it?”
Then, just as Josie’s about to keep going, Clive buzzes in.
Clive: “No it hasn’t. Australian soap.”
Josie, groaning: “Oh, WRECK OFF…”
Russell, succumbing to the style: “I’m, uh, I’m gonna go surfin’…”
Josie, both as a character and as an improviser: “…You’re gonna go surfing in THE AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK???”
Say what you will about Russell, but at least he knows that a spaghetti western involves dubbing.
Josie spends the Tarzan style doing an ape impression.
Russell: “Cheetah, you make fabulous wife.”
Josie motions to Russell’s crotch area, then wards the audience off of him.
Not a bad scene, but it didn’t exactly go anywhere. Russell…wasn’t terrible. He didn’t do anything truly bad…yet.
Film Dub: Ryan, Greg and Josie
This is the first of two experimental film dubs this season- they have to dub over a washing powder advert, that even has some subtitles in it, so they…have to incorporate them into the dubbing.
This isn’t especially funny, because…like, there’s subtitles. They don’t really have to improvise. It’s only when Josie runs out, as the mother, going ‘PETER, COME BACK YOU LITTLE BASTAAAIRD’ in a French accent that this begins to get funny.
Suddenly, they cut to a doctor in the field, and Ryan just sort of goes with it
Ryan: “Hello, I’m here to talk to you about a wonderful product.”
And I’m gone. This isn’t a great Film Dub, but I am laughing at that.
And then Ryan, as the pitchman, reveals that Gleen is nothing more than a box of ants: “We send them to you for practical jokes! For picnics!”
So yes, while this was a lower tier Film Dub because of its subtitling cacophony…at least Ryan had one of the best on-the-fly genre changes we’ve seen.
Song Styles: Josie sings an Irish Jig about a strimmer
Okay, here we go. Back to good old Song Styles. None of that ‘starting line and ending line’ nonsense. Just Josie, an object, and a style. It’s that simple.
Clive: “You do know what a strimmer is, right?”
Josie: “Yes, I think- what, like, round the sounds of the lawn.”
Clive: “…I think that’s a flower bed…”
Then, the second Richard kicks in with a flute, Josie starts energetically riverdancing away.
Not quite a classic, but still pretty good. Nice ending line too- ‘although I had a strimmer, I had nowhere to plug it in…’
World’s Worst: Thing to say before or during sex
Ryan, starting a trend: “OH…RYAN…”
Ryan, going into a Scotty impression: “…CAPTAIN THE ENGINES CAN’T TAKE MUCH MORE OF THIS…”
Greg: “20 bucks? Well, seeing as how you ARE a member of the royal family…”
Ryan: “THE CHANNEL IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS.”
Greg: “I’m wearing the Clive Anderson mask!”
Josie: “No, stop…I haven’t video’d Neighbours.”
[Russell gets a kick out of that one]
Really, really nice round. Great stuff all the way through. It’s even better, as Ryan uses topics like these to really shine.
Stand Sit Bend: Greg, Ryan and Russell are in a real estate agent’s office
Ah, here we go. Russell finally has to interact with Ryan and Greg. Let’s see how this goes.
Russell spends the first 30 or so seconds of the game…sort of watching Ryan and Greg. This is before he realizes he should at least do something, so he offers to fix Greg’s back…in lieu of a character.
Russell: “Is that better?”
Greg: “Yeah, I think all my spinal fluids just drained out of my body, thanks.”
Ryan’s strength in this game is throwing someone for a loop whenever they think they’re safe to stay put. Russell tries consoling Greg, but Ryan gets back up and forces Russell to lean again.
Then, at one point, Ryan and Russell change positions 4 times over the course of 5 seconds, trying to outdo the other. Greg is just trying to keep the scene going over the audience reaction.
There’s even a moment where Ryan goes to lean over and point something out…and Greg and Russell have a five second realization that they’re both still standing. So they struggle to get down.
Funny game, which again goes into hysteria the madder Ryan’s character gets, but Russell was surprisingly right there with them in this, despite the late start.
Scene to Music: Ryan and Josie (lost property office)
Josie: “hello, I’ve lost my suitcase.”
Ryan: “Well, I’m out to lunch, I’ve just lost my little ‘out to lunch’ thing.”
the music cue is some emotional, late-act romance theme, sort of like a swelling-moment for an emotional climax. Different than the intermixing-music from last show.
Josie: ‘PLEEEEEASE TELL ME YOU CAN FIND IT, PLEASE.”
Ryan, nailing the type of 30s/40s delivery: “I can help you find it….but it won’t be easy. PEOPLE LOSE THINGS HERE EVERY DAAAAY. TELL ME…was there anything IN the case?”
Josie: “…MY LINGERIE!”
JUST AS THE TRIUMPHANT ENDING BRASS HIT COMES, Ryan unbuttons his shirt, saying ‘I’VE FOUND IT’, and Josie is won over. It’s incredibly fitting that it comes exactly then, too.
Better than last episode’s, because they took the scene even further, while sticking so carefully to the style of music that it got even better the more they passionately overacted.
Party Quirks: Greg hosts
Russell: sheep shearer
Josie: thinks she’s a cat
Ryan: ice-hockey player
Clive: “Greg has to guess who the others are playing, and if he does…..we’ll, uh, have a GOOD GAME!”
[Greg cracks at this from the seats]
Russell, despite his general ineffectiveness, does manage to nearly pick up Greg around the waste while trying to do his shearing job. Yes, Greg does guess him rather easily, but he had to get nearly groped to do so.
Josie uses physicality and relationships with fellow performers as a strength; here she muzzles up to Greg while in character, as she literally disavows any inhibition and gives her entire self over to the character. I truly missed having her on, especially on a good day.
Then, in addition to the groping and nuzzling, Ryan starts beating down Greg when he disagrees with him. Poor, poor Greg.
There is a moment where Josie’s kneeling, licking around, and Ryan’s scooting around the stage, where Greg’s hopelessness reminded me slightly of Tony’s in this game…especially a future playing with Josie and Ryan (“uhhhh….ANYWAY, LET’S ALL DANCE!”)
Greg, seeing the fantastic irony: “…this is my very dear friend, Josie, the pussycat.”
Even as Greg guesses Ryan, I feel as though Ryan didn’t have a great idea of how Hockey especially works. And as a Canadian, he should feel ashamed.
Helping Hands: Josie is on a date with Ryan (ft. Greg’s hands) who plans to propose
Right in the beginning, Greg begins to pull Josie’s head downwards, but Ryan even goes “not yet.” I don’t think most of the audience caught this, but I sure did. Hell, that might have even been a Tony Slattery trick.
Josie, holding up the ketchup: “OH, YOU REMEMBERED THE KETCHUP.”
Ryan: “Yes, I remembered how much you love it.”
and OH GOD HOW I MISSED JOSIE. SHE’S OFFICIALLY BACK. GOOD LORD.
Ryan, for a spell, dances around with a rose between his teeth, then when Josie gets his attention he spits it offstage and looks at her, without missing a beat. The timing so far is impeccable.
[There’s a moment where Ryan clutches the ‘present’ from Josie close to his heart, and it hits his mic, so you hear a loud crunching noise.]
Greg takes the bottle of cologne, first throwing the container behind him because that works for a laugh in this game, and then spurting Ryan directly in the face with it, multiple times.
Ryan: “I WANT IT IN THE EYE, SO EVERY TIME I LOOK AT YOU, I SMELL GREAT.”
There’s a fantastic moment where Ryan attempts to play the violin, and tries to get Greg to place it on his shoulder, but just struggles for 10 seconds. It looks like he has a contact stuck in his eye.
Ryan: “There are so many parts of you that I want to caress, that I want to touch [smirk] sometimes I wish I had four hands, BUT I DO…”
Then, for another 10 seconds, Ryan watches as Greg struggles to get the bottle of champagne open. Neither of them know how.
Then, after it’s not going anywhere
Ryan: “…SCREW IT, WE’LL HAVE KETCHUP!”
And then Ryan gets Josie to pour him a glass of ketchup [as if the cat food from last time wasn’t enough]. Josie does has to stop and take off the protective wrapper before squirting some into the champagne glass, which is a funny touch. Then, because it’s just the bottle unfiltered, without the squeeze hole, Josie just squirts A TON OF KETCHUP into the glass, so much that even the audience is appalled.
The scene ends as Josie is already cracking up and Ryan is juuuust taking a sip of the ketchup.
That may have been an all-time high for Helping Hands. Every moment was hysterical, every prop led to something funny, Greg was legitimately clueless back there, Josie was able to contribute a ton, and…THEY DIDN’T EVEN GET TO THE PROPOSAL PART. THEY DIDN’T EVEN *NEED* TO. Oh god that was so fucking good.
Clive intros this by telling them to come on down to the step, without saying the title. Once Clive starts explaining the game, pointing out Richard, Ryan immediately knows what he’s been tricked into playing and slams his head backwards.
Russell has a funny verse, relating back to his sheep-shearer role in Party Quirks, but his facial expression and annoyed voice does throw it over the line of annoying.
A step down from last hoedown, but they’re all beginning to get the hang of it, especially Ryan, against his wishes.
Overall: I wrote a lot, but what did I think? Well…I do think it was a step back from Episode 1, and I think the middle of this episode lulled a bit, resting on some contained-momentum type games that stopped things for a while. HOWEVER…around the end of Stand Sit Lean and definitely by the beginning of Scene to Music, this show reached a kind of dangerous, impenetrable energy, that couldn’t possibly be stopped, even by a Hoedown. The whole stretch from Scene to Music to Helping Hands is just…electric. Plus, the more electric the momentum got, the easier it was to tolerate Russell Fletcher, who brought up the rear of the show. Josie had her best show since the S3 UK tapings, Ryan excelled yet again, and Greg continues to build his momentum this year.
In terms of Russell…let’s be clear that during this watchdown, I’ve tried to defend a lot of the one-offs and people that are much maligned in this show’s history. I’ve defended occasional stints from Ron West and Archie Hahn, and have even spoken for people like Richard Kaplan and Lee Simpson, who weren’t as bad as the online community seem to think in my opinion. But Russell…wasn’t even what I’d call ‘bad’. He was just forgettable. He didn’t really do anything particularly illegal (mugging aside), but he also didn’t do anything that made me laugh. He’s just somewhere in the middle, and it was the kind of middle that the producers didn’t want to expand upon. So while he wasn’t great here, I wouldn’t put him with people like Sam Johnson or Jan Ravens near the bottom.
Show Winner: Ryan and Greg
Best Performer: Greg Proops, for dominating a show in the new, Stiles-governed era. Josie came exceptionally close.
Worst Performer: Russell Fletcher, for not having an especially memorable go of it.
Best Game: Helping Hands. I was not expecting to laugh that hard at Helping Hands, but by god it was phenomenal.
Worst Game: by default, Song Styles, for being ‘okay’ on a pretty solid show.