First Impressions, USA’s new Dana Carvey-fronted reality competition between celebrity impressionists, is like Chopped for comedians who do impressions—and the first episode was just wonderful, a quick half-hour that just keeps the laughter coming.
The contestants were immediately surprising and hilarious—the voices that came out of their mouths! In the first episode, Rusty Sarhan did Jennifer Coolidge and also Sharon Osbourne, and both felt so accurate that it almost sounded like the audio was dubbed over. Later, Angela Hoover also did an impression of Sharon Osbourne, prompting Dana Carvey to have them both recite the alphabet together in character.
But seriously, Rusty’s Jennifer Coolidge. Watch:
That ability to instantly embody a recognizable character and place that person into a believable moment is absolutely extraordinary, and episode one delivered talent and humor.
When the show was first announced, I was most excited about Dana Carvey back on TV, doing impressions regularly. He’s great, yes, but I didn’t realize how much more fun watching equally talented people would be.
USA said in a press release that Dana Carvey and the guest coaches—future episodes will feature Jon Lovitz, Kevin Nealon, Yvette Nicole Brown, Kate Flannery, Tom Arnold, and Jay Leno—”will coach the aspiring impressionists through a variety of challenges, helping them to hone their skills.”
But in episode one, at least, these were not amateurs in need of coaching, and the pros knew it.
At the end of the episode, guest mentor/coach Steve Carrell said, “I’m astounded with the ability you guys have—it’s humbling,” and Dana Carvey added, “If I was asked to be on this show when I was 30 years old, before I got on SNL, I would have cried.”
While Carrell and Carvey offered some limited comments—this is not American Idol or The Voice—they were mostly there to play along. So does Freddie Prinze Jr, a capable host, though I was distracted by how many times he clasped his hands together in front of him.
None of them judge, however; instead, the studio audience votes to give one person $10,000.
How First Impressions works
The show moves quickly, and so do the impressions, which at first frustrated me (I wanted more!) but later made me appreciative (hearing the same impression a few times got just the tiniest bit old).
In each episode, three contestants compete in five rounds. A preview for the season suggests there will be variation in these rounds, but here’s what happened in episode one:
- An introduction, with each contestant doing a few impressions. I was rolling already.
- In the second round, the contestants had to select random celebrity names and do impressions. Because these weren’t necessarily impressions they’d practiced or knew how to do, it was challenging, and the impressions suffered a bit. The coaches and host all guessed the celebrities, which made the round more fun.
- Next up was The Dating Game, or a version of it, with the celebrity guest and Dana Carvey asking questions of the contestants, who are in character. Once again, they shine, both as improvisers and as impressionists, and there’s a lot of room for interplay between all five performers.
- The fourth round had the coaches give the contestants a profession, and the contestants had to improvise a few lines as a character of their choosing. Still funny, though by this point, I wanted some new celebrities to appear; it felt a little repetitious.
- The show concluded with a lightning round: 30 seconds to do as many impressions as each contestant wanted, which made it very similar to the first round. Some of the three contestants repeated impressions from earlier in the show, but they also brought out brand-new characters, which made it a fun cap to the show.
Overall, First Impressions was just a joyous half-hour, the exact opposite of this. I’ll definitely be watching next week.