Last night, after devouring the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finale, I decided to check out a new show on Fox called “Riot.” Riot is an improv comedy show, which I can only describe as “Whose Line Is It Anyway” meets “Wipeout,” where participants are playing improv games while also sliding around, flying through the air, and being hit with giant balls. In other words, it sound like pretty much the perfect show. But it suffers from a terrible problem.
Now, when movie producers have to put together a trailer for their blockbuster summer films, they have to choose very carefully how to do it. If they put all their best material in the trailer, then people will walk away from the movie disappointed. “All the best stuff was in the previews” they will rightfully complain. Nobody wants to pay money to see something that includes all stuff they have already seen for free, plus a bunch of other stuff that was not as good. On the other hand, if those same producers don’t put at least some of the good stuff in, then why would anybody go to see their movie? Lame and boring previews are not a good marketing device.
I will argue that comedies have a tougher job of this. Action movies are big, and even if you see an exploding dinosaur robot on TV, you know that it will be a totally different experience when you see that same exploding dinosaur robot on the big screen. Nothing has really been spoiled. Dramas and romances may give you some key scenes, but the point of those movies is the journey. How did those characters get there, and why? But comedies are supposed to be funny, and a key element of humor is surprise, or at least a bit of the unexpected. Once you have heard a joke, it’s often slightly less funny the second time around.
Some jokes are funny even when you see them coming, thanks to the delivery of the actor, or the way they play out, but even then I would say that surprise plays a role, so the last thing you want to have happen is for your audience to have heard all the best jokes before you tell them on screen. And yet this is exactly what Riot, and so many other comedy shows, has/have done. Aside from being overproduced with a badly scripted and slightly annoying host, the sketches in Riot were generally amusing, and my wife and I were giggling constantly as we watched Steve Carell…well, I won’t tell you, because then when you watch it you won’t be surprised.
So the jokes are funny. But WHY ON EARTH would you show us a clip reel of all the best jokes from the episode, AT THE BEGINNING OF THE EPISODE?! WHY?! Why take all that time to build a giant set, hire lots of funny people, and set them loose in the unscripted, and thus extra unpredictable, world of improvisational comedy, and then TELL US ALL THE PUNCHLINES FIRST?! This is madness! It is infuriating! And not only did they give us all the best one-liners in the opening credits, but every commercial break, before they let us go, they would re-show the best jokes in whatever bit was coming up next after the ads. Really? REALLY?!
I mean, come on! Who is in charge of this stuff? A few years ago they tried to do an improv television show called “Thank God You’re Here,” which was a remake of an Australian improv television show of the same name. This American version lasted all of six or seven episodes before being cancelled, and I always wondered if part of the reason people were not staying tuned in was because, like Riot, they gave away all of their jokes in the opening montage as well. I watched that show, and gave up on it after having each bit ruined for me at the start of every episode. Both Thank God You’re Here and Riot hired Brian Palermo to be in the cast, by the way, but I don’t think that has anything to do with anything, other than that he is funny and good at improv.
Please, for the love of improvisational comedy, stop destroying your shows, you nervous TV execs. I know it is a crowded marketplace and launching a new show is always a risk, but you are not doing yourselves, or your audience, any favors by constantly previewing the funniest parts of the sketches just literally minutes before they air. If you want to show off your new system, where when people guess wrong at charades they get hit with a big surprise wrecking ball, fine. That’s funny any time. Show us the concept. Give us the big picture. But don’t spoil all the little surprises along the way. No matter how good or funny your show is, it won’t last if you ruin it in advance. And if it isn’t good or funny, no amount of editing or previews will save it anyway.