Fox's 'Riot' takes actors for a game-show spin with a twist

Steve Carell is game for improv high jinks in Fox's 'Riot'

"Riot," which premieres Tuesday on Fox, is a sort of cross between "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" and "Wipeout."

Its social and improv-comedy games are made more difficult, or more visually striking, by the addition of physical obstacles or mechanical appurtenances. The game called Mime Sweeper, for example, is charades with a wrecking ball.

Scenes may be played in pitch blackness, shot with infrared cameras so that "even though you won't be able to see anything, we can," says Australian host Rove McManus. Others take place on a tilted stage, shot with a tilted camera, which makes the actors seem to lean like Pisa's famous tower. They slide magically across the floor in one direction and labor to move at all in the other. Liquid pours at an angle.

In a game that will be familiar to viewers of "Whose Line," everything has to be phrased as a question; in another, each line must begin with a successive letter of the alphabet, a limitation that leads to lines like "Goodly is the fit on my hand with this glove." Thus:

Andy Buckley (shopping for lingerie): "Alan, I think my wife would like this."

Steve Carell: "Bras, I love 'em."

The difference here is that when the player screws up, he or she is jerked into the air — each wears a wired harness — to float above the stage until the game is done.

The show is staffed by a rotating core group of actors, abetted by guest stars. The premiere episode is Carell, who is an executive producer of the show (which is based on Australian series, which is based on a French series, which has branches around the world, as these things so often do) and Buckley, who played David Wallace opposite him on "The Office."

"Steve," says McManus, introducing him, "you look fantastic tonight."

"I always wore a suit when I improvised," says Carell.

"And why was that?"

"To disguise how bad I was."

Improvisation is part of the training of most comic actors nowadays. But some of the players are, in evident fact, better at it than others — more consistently fleet of thought, more nimble, more original, more in the communally invented moment, more generous with their partners.

And some of the games produce better jokes than others. But jokes are only part of the point, which also may be to see an actor get messy or knocked about, or to watch him flail, or fail.

Indeed, an expectation of failure is built into the comedy, so that at times the contestants are funny only in the attempt to be funny. At other times, given the circumstances, it may seem miraculous that they can be funny at all.

But that's the game, which is only a game. 



Where: Fox

When: 9 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)

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