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A&E Home Video presents
Whose Line Is It Anyway (British): The Complete Seasons 1 & 2 (1988-1990)

"I'm Clive Anderson saying good night. Good night."
- Clive Anderson (host)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: March 19, 2007

Stars: Clive Anderson, John Sessions, Richard Vranch, Josie Lawrence, Tony Slattery, Greg Proops, Michael McShane
Other Stars: Paul Merton, Archie Hahn, Jimmy Mulville, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Fry, Ryan Stiles, Griff Rhys Jones
Director: Paul O'Dell, Chris Bould

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (suitable for most television audiences)
Run Time: 12h:42m:00s
Release Date: March 27, 2007
UPC: 733961768145
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+BB C+

DVD Review

Originating in 1988 as a BBC radio show, Whose Line Is It Anyway? quickly shifted to television due to an enthusiastic audience response. The half-hour improvisational comedy series aired on England's Channel 4 and lasted for 10 years. Following its conclusion, Drew Carey resurrected the concept and helped to produce a nearly identical show for American television. There were some minor differences between the two versions, but they utilized the same basic structure. Four "contestants" perform various games that require considerable talents to improvise anything. The host assigns a random collection of points for each game and declares one player the winner. The "prize" is to read the credits in a unique style chosen by the host, which leads to some silly finales.

This DVD release includes the first two seasons of the original British version hosted by Clive Anderson. The bald, clever guy keeps the tone light and interacts well with the audience, who often provide suggestions for the improv games. These seasons are rougher than the later years and depict Anderson and the producers still discovering the best ways to run the show. They also contain more British humor and cover some high-brow topics. The primary reason for this difference is the presence of the incomparable John Sessions as a series regular. The Scottish actor/comedian worked on the original radio show and was hired to work on every episode of the first season and many in the second. His ability to ape classic literary figures and mock the intellectual while remaining one is often very funny. Sessions' style often goes way over viewers’ heads, but it is still highly original work.

Each episode rises or falls based on the participating cast, whose improvisational talents vary considerably. Tony Slattery's enjoyable style is much different from Sessions' as he uses quick, clever lines to generate big laughs. The deadpan tone of Paul Merton also succeeds greatly, especially when he’s trying to guess other players' odd traits during "Party Quirks." Josie Lawrence is another consistent presence and shines during the musical segments with Richard Vranch. Not all the contestants are so fortunate, however. Arguably the worst performance comes from American Betty Thomas (Hill Street Blues), who appears completely overwhelmed by the show. Following each game, she throws up her arms in confusion, which only spotlights her uneasy demeanor. The less-frequent performers often struggle to keep up with the regulars, and early tries by Jon Glover, Jimmy Mulville, and Rory Bremer fail to make an impression. One big surprise is the fine work by Jonathan Pryce, who smoothly matches Sessions, Merton, and Lawrence during an early episode.

Fans of the American Whose Line Is It Anyway will notice the absence of favorite Colin Mochrie during these episodes. He did not appear until the third season but eventually became a regular presence. Ryan Stiles—possibly the show's all-time best performer—shows up twice during the second season but really shone when he's later paired with Mochrie. Certain games, specifically "Authors," lack the spontaneity prevalent within subsequent years. Contestants are allowed to choose their author beforehand and often completely ignore the improvised premise. Some of the best moments occur during the infrequent games, which often place the players in very odd situations. "Film Dubbing" is a personal favorite due to the silly banter and the goofy clips chosen. Even the less-stellar performers seem to thrive in this setting and are able to generate laughs. The formula might not have been perfected at this time, but the series was enjoyable right from the start. It continued to grow and became even more entertaining as the seasons progressed.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Whose Line Is It Anyway utilizes a very simple indoor setting, so this full-frame transfer has few opportunities for exciting visuals. The filming technology appears fairly cheap in the standard game-show style, which also limits the images. The picture is virtually free of defects and offers the expected quality for this type of release.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: This release offers an acceptable 2.0-channel transfer that presents the rapid-fire improvisations clearly. In similar fashion to the image transfer, the audio is limited by its original technology and the basic set-up. But it does perform well enough to provide a suitable presentation of each episode.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
0 Documentaries
Packaging: Box Set
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Interview with Executive Producers Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson
Extras Review: The only feature provided with this four-disc collection is an interview with series creators Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson. Separated into two 20-minute segments, this informative conversation covers the show's origins and the key members of the early cast. Both guys offer plenty of good details and appear to enjoy recounting the first two seasons. Their candid discussion describes the reasons for creative and casting decisions that lead to tremendous success. Hopefully they will appear on future editions to dicuss the series' evolution. Although this extra is worthwhile, it's unfortunate that no deleted scenes appear within this set. I also would have enjoyed hearing from host Clive Anderson and the regular cast about their experiences. A nice packaging element is the description on the back of each slim case, which identifies notable moments from that disc.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Whose Line Is It Anyway's improvised humor is not for everyone's tastes, and some viewers may deride its skits and songs about nothing. However, I find it consistently entertaining and a worthy showcase of fine comic talents. Future seasons improved the original model, and this solid collection offers hope that we'll see them released in upcoming years.


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