Your Imaginary Friends

at Synergy Center

If a good idea were all you needed for a great show, theater would be a breeze. You’d scribble your clever idea down on a pad of paper and poof! you’d be rich, happy, and well fed for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, in between the time you come up with the wonderful idea and the time you go onstage there are all kinds of annoying steps, like writing, rehearsing, and editing.

Your Imaginary Friends–a very smart, clever company–appears to have skipped all the arduous in-between steps and gone directly from scribble to stage. Naked TV has a lot of potential, but in its present form the show seems underrehearsed and underdeveloped. Because the company hasn’t taken the time and care to think out its ideas, it’s failed to create what could have been a really intelligent and entertaining show.

Naked TV imitates the age of remote control by flipping back and forth between skits. There’s a menu of six different channels, each presenting a number of programs developed from audience suggestions, and audience members call out the channel numbers and shows they want to watch. The players must make split-second shifts, say from a local-access talk show to a cheap horror movie on the “Cinema Channel” to soft-core porn on the Playboy channel and back again to the talk show, all the while keeping in mind where they left off in any given scene and how much time has elapsed. It’s an excellent idea, with the potential to showcase actors’ abilities to switch characters and parody our meager attention spans and channel-flipping tendencies. Given a few weeks of fine-tuning, it could still work.

Naked TV begins promisingly enough. Behind a large screen the actors perform a hilarious shadow-play send-up of James Bond-style opening-title sequences while the credits for Naked TV roll by on a smaller screen off to one side. This is the most successful part of the show–and not coincidentally, the only portion that’s been scripted. The rest is a hodgepodge of improvisational sketches that unfold far more slowly than anything I’ve seen on TV.

On the night I attended, the skits included a talk show dedicated to men’s fear of women’s breasts, a disaster movie, a film about what the world would be like if the Kennedys were still alive (loaded with lame dead-Marilyn Monroe and JFK masturbation jokes), a fishing show, and an offering about a dolphin running for president. The proceedings were lorded over by producer-director Greg Shore, who also serves as Mr. Remote Control, prodding the skits along when they’re falling flat and barking out instructions to the actors. The skits were about as good as could be expected, given that everything was improvised according to audience suggestion and the audience’s suggestions weren’t too clever and that none of the four ensemble members seems particularly adept at improv.

This is where Your Imaginary Friends made their mistake. A show like this requires quick timing, clever plots, and good lines. There has to be some order to the proceedings–perhaps even, dare I say it, a script. If the performers were to compile a list of the sketches that worked best and let us choose between them, yelling out suggestions for scenes that had already been rehearsed, the channel-flipping idea might work. As it is, the show is both chaotic and draggy–a strange combination. The actors forget where they left off, contradict what happened before, and laugh nervously when they know they’ve screwed up. And when something does work, the performers chuckle and snigger appreciatively as if this were an event they never anticipated.

I know it’s sacrilegious to suggest that an improv show should be partially scripted, but this production from Your Imaginary Friends could really benefit from some structure. It would be a shame to see Naked TV remain as much a wasteland as television itself.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andrew Collings.