Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but Channel 10's adaptation of the hit BBC/ABC show Whose Line Is It Anyway? isn't very flattering to the original.
While American and British formats for various programs have been adapted to our special tastes, not all of them work. And since the gulf between Israeli and American or British humor is huge, it's a hard gap to close.
In this case the Israeli version, airing Wednesday nights at 10, is not all bad. Most of the basic trappings of the highly successful format - which began in the UK under the aegis of the master Clive Anderson and then crossed the Atlantic to be hosted by Drew Carey - remain thankfully intact. So we have the "props" segment (one of our favorites), the pantomime, the "scenes from a hat," the "blind date" segment, and several others.
The problem may indeed lie in the difference between our respective funny bones. While the American and British casts - including the great Ryan Stiles, for example - managed to be funny without necessarily being gross, Israeli humor is cruder. That may explain the larger-than-expected number of fart jokes and other such "humor" in many of the improvisations.
The cast is a mixed bag. It includes one of our favorites, Shmulik Levy, from the Shorts sketch show on Channel 2, who's funny just to look at. The others include Tomer Sharon (known as Tomash), who appeared in the sketch series Flatfus with this show's host Idan Alterman, Yael Leventhal of Life Isn't Everything, and Elinor Sela.
We tuned in just in time for a "scenes from a hat" segment but came away disappointed. The first suggestion: People Rejected for Working for the Mossad. Among the offerings: An Arab (too obvious) and an old man (part of a series of efforts by Levy to poke fun at the elderly, which seems to be an obsession.
You can age with grace too, Shmulik!) The only good ones were Levy offering Alexander Graham Bell's first words on the phone: "No, wrong number" and Sharon's rendition of quintessential TV pitchwoman G. Yafit as "someone who shouldn't appear naked."
From there, things got worse. "Things you shouldn't say to the boss's wife" dropped to the level of fart jokes again, and a "speak in questions only" segment in a pick-up bar was just dreadful. Also, while Alterman, who jumped in periodically to participate in the action, noted - as Carey does - that points would be awarded and that they "are totally meaningless, like what men say to women before sex," we didn't hear him award any, nor declare a "winner" at the end as in the UK and US versions.
Still, times are hard, we can use all the smiles we can get, and Whose Line, even in Hebrew, supplies them. So while the "props" segment wasn't quite up to snuff, it was hysterical seeing Sela using two inner soles to pretend to be a bus passenger with her face stuck in the door, yelling: "Nahag, delet ahorit!" (Driver, open the rear door!)
Sharon was also funny as the participant in an Olympic diaper-changing event, with Levy and Elinor "broadcasting" the action and demanding stop and slow-motion shots of the disgusted diaper-changer.
Importing foreign TV formats seems to be the in thing these days, perhaps because it doesn't require much input from the creative minds we like to think populate our TV channels, especially the commercial ones. Indeed, we've even begun exporting our own formats - B'tipul was picked up recently by HBO, a very impressive coup for Channel 3.
Still, the flow appears to be West to East, and the adaptations are still a mixed bag. For Whose Line to succeed in its Israeli incarnation, the cast needs to stop laughing at their own jokes, add musical numbers - there weren't any in the show we saw and they are a staple of the original, especially when done by the great Wayne Brady - and raise the level of humor from what is too frequently gutter level.
Then we'd really have what we need during these days of scandal and breast-beating: something to laugh about.