By the very nature of improv, you never know what you’re going to get. So, it is no given that Bravo’s new show, “ASSSSCAT Improv,” self-described as, “the longest running and greatest (live) improv show in the history of the world” will be able to live up to its billing. The members of the highly successful Upright Citizens Brigade bring their weekly performance to television with the help of special guests from other well-known comedy shows. Saturday Night Live” cast members Amy Poehler (a founder of “ASSSSCAT”), Tina Fey, Horatio Sanz and Rachael Dratch join former “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” sidekick Andy Richter and others in perhaps the most star-studded improv show ever. Though the result is humorous overall, the comedic success is sporadic.
The format of the “ASSSSCAT” (an acronym for Automated Sprinkler System Shutdown Siamese Connection Alternative Theater) is moderately original as far as improv goes. To begin with, someone from the audience shouts out a word that inspires a monologue. The cast then uses the monologue as a basis for their ensuing skits, all of which, as Ms. Poehler repeatedly reminds us, are entirely improvised on the spot.
Unfortunately the monologues themselves are dry and feature very little humor. Richter’s especially are horrendous — he doesn’t even seem to try and be funny.
However, the little-known Matt Besser, one of the founding members of this troupe, unexpectedly steals the show. His best routine, where he plays a bumbling agent of the Gestapo, is certainly the best part of the show. Besser also seems to have great chemistry with fellow founding members Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh, who often seem to be the only ones not confused and overwhelmed.
Of the guest performers, Dratch and Sanz are excellent. They seem to be improv naturals and get a chance to branch out from the foundering “Saturday Night Live.” Sanz’s impersonation of a ticked-off Sylvester Stallone is priceless and on par with Dratch’s of an end-table-crazed Adolf Hitler. Richter, however, bombs in his skits, too, rarely having anything original for others to play off of. Even when he says something funny, Richter seems to be entirely uninterested in acting out the part.
The show’s late starting time brings expectations of a less politically correct and edgier version of the semi-hit improv show, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Among other things, the cast fearlessly explores religious and date-rape humor, though most of this is tasteless and unamusing. However, there is some insightful satire intertwined with these crude remarks, such as a play on college fraternities and religious fundamentalists who claim only they know God. Sanz’s style is quite amusing too, though stretched too thin by the limits of improv.
Overall, the show is funny, but does not have the constant flow and consistency needed to sustain anything more than occasional laughter. The cast of improvisers are largely brilliant and there is no reason why future episodes, with other random topics, could not be better.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars