‘Would You Rather … ?,’ rather not
BBC America panel shows relies on the quick wit of its guests
December 1, 2011
BBC America’s first original comedy series, Would You Rather¦? With Graham Norton, like many panel shows, asks celebrities questions that are chiefly designed to inspire funny responses. Coming from all-American panels, the answers on Would You Rather¦? aren’t as quick or clever as they would be on a similar British show. Moreover, the often tasteless subjects would benefit from the filtering effect of foreign accents. As a result, the ratio of laughs to dead air is too low to justify tuning in.
The premiere episode, airing this Saturday, Dec. 3, at 11 p.m., features a rather obscure lineup of male entertainment figures, each of whom Norton, an Irishman who has hosted both British and American shows, introduces with an adjective that won’t help viewers identify them: the macho Stanley Tucci, the buff Jordan Carlos, the virile Scott Adsit and the musky Sherrod Small.
The panelists are presented with a series of hypothetical choices; their responses are judged arbitrarily by Norton; and the panelist with the most points at the end of the show gets bragging rights.
Norton’s first question is Would you rather your mom had a sex change or your dad had a sex change? On a British show, zingers would immediately start ricocheting off the walls. On this one, the panelists look uncomfortable, and one momentarily fears they won’t say anything.
Small, a standup comic, says that his father wasn’t around when he was a kid, so he’d like to see him get a vagina. Carlos, another standup, says that since his father has already had a prostate operation, why not keep going?
lllustrating what may be the chief difference between British and American comedians, the panelists rely more on their personalities than the quality of their material. Though no one stands out, Norton declares Small the winner of the round.
The panelists warm up a bit for the second question: Would they rather have everything they say be the absolute truth or an absolute lie? Adsit, a 30 Rock cast member, points out reasonably that you couldn’t lie all the time ” for example, what would you do if someone asked you, Chicken or fish?
Getting more literal, Tucci, the film actor, says that he would always tell the truth but keep silent if the truth would hurt someone’s feelings. Stanley’s terribly quiet, says Norton, melodramatically. I just asked him if he loved me.
Ideally, the panelists and the host would build energy by taking one another’s responses and topping them, but they never start cooking.
In another segment, five audience members have been asked whether they would rather be forced to store all their bodily wastes under their bed or never cut their hair or nails again. The panelists try to guess which one of the five chose the former option. The poor victims have to stand silently onstage while the panelists point out that they all look creepy.
Finally, a fill-in-the-blank lightning round leaves the panelists mostly shooting blanks.
In the second episode provided for review, the panel ” the frank Christian Finnegan, the candid Michelle Buteau, the uninhibited Joe Mande and the downright brazen Cyndi Lauper ” is, on average, more obscure and less witty. But their personalities pop a little better.
As the episode wears on, they take the questions increasingly seriously. Asked whether they would rather see their best friend have sex with the ex who broke their heart or donate $200 to the Ku Klux Klan, they start offering sad stories about past loves.
Since there’s no lack of people sharing their life stories on American TV, most viewers ” and, one imagines, BBC America ” would rather have some sharper jokes.
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