Sketch comedy is usually a hit-and-miss deal. Even old masters like Monty Python and The Kids in the Hall had their share of contrived clunkers. So while I look forward to seeing every new Second City show, I never expect it to be perfect.
In the recent years that I've been going to the company's Toronto revues, the only one that was consistently funny almost all the way through was 2009's 0% Down, 100% Screwed. (Awful title, but great revue.) Although that show's terrific cast has moved on, succeeding shows – including the last one, Live Wrong and Prosper – have brought satisfying doses of sharp social satire and absurdity to the stage.
We've Totally (Probably) Got This!, the new revue that opened two weeks ago, is a funny but very uneven series of scenes that – as its title seems to imply – often feels like a hit parade of missed opportunities. For every solid sketch that scores deserved laughs, there's another that doesn't go as far as it could have or that never quite nails its target. And the show has an oddly shorter-than-usual running length, as if they didn't have enough good material to fill the time.
It starts off well: the opening montage, which parodies disaster movies as an ominous narrator warns of an impending “s—tstorm”, leads into a clever scene about neurotic parents (Alastair Forbes, Stacey McGunnigle) who find out that their young son (Jason DeRosse) is far smarter than they are – and blame it on his “attitude”. Other strong scenes include one with two dining couples competing in public displays of affection, and another about kids on a school bus cruelly teasing their driver. There's a great battlefield scene in which two soldiers (Forbes, DeRosse) refuse to let their dying buddy (Nigel Downer) leave this world without losing his virginity; it's not only hilarious, but weirdly touching too.
But the chaos/disaster theme of the opening never truly pays off, and other scenes feel either unfinished or unpolished. There's also an uncharacteristic shortage of sharp blackout sketches, political humour and improv bits. A parody of ambulance-chasing lawyers' commercials plays as stale; so does one with Downer spouting nasty rewrites of nursery rhymes at a poetry open mic. (The latter is funny at first, but then you think: Didn't Andrew Dice Clay already do this bit twenty years ago?)
Another sketch, depicting the “horrors” of Valentine's Day in grade school, suffers from clumsy staging, and it would also work better if the dramatic music weren't so loud and overbearing. And one scene about security guards in a Reitmans store drags on for far too long – although it does show off the limber physical agility of the performers, who literally climb all over the set.
Of the cast, two-time Canadian Comedy Award-winner DeRosse is the main standout; in his third Mainstage revue, he brings a manic energy mixed with vulnerability to each role. But Ashley Comeau has a brilliant, show-stopping bit as a store customer who explodes into a long, angry tirade about another customer's loud, irritating child. (Carly Heffernan is also very funny as the kid: she gives it just the right combination of cuteness and outright spoiled brattiness.)
A gifted comedy director with some serious SC cred, Melody A. Johnson works hard to imbue the show with high energy and fast pacing, but there are clearly moments when even she can't overcome some second-rate material and lines. Music director Matthew Reid gives his typically reliable accompaniment throughout the show on the keyboards, scattered with a few subtle references (I was pleased when I recognized a snippet of the Beach Boys' “God Only Knows” during a scene about a first date).
This isn't Second City at its best; it's Second City when it's half inspired, half filling time. You know something isn't all there when the free improv set at the end (which included SC vets Rob Norman, Rob Baker and Adam Cawley as guests last night) is far funnier and more engaging than the entire scripted revue.