First Impressions episode 1

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

We recently previewed USA’s First Impressions, starring Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Dana Carvey.  The show premiered this week, and it looks like a winner.  The series pits aspiring comics in an “impression off” to wow an audience of judges and a celebrity guest for a prize of $10,000.  It’s not a competition show, like Last Comic Standing; it’s a game show with new contestants every week.  In fact, it feels a bit like a mashup of Lip Sync Battle and Whose Line is it, Anyway?, with a bit of Hollywood Game Night thrown in.

Three contestants offer up their best celebrity impressions in a variety of bits and sketches, while Carvey and a visiting comedian (Steve Carell in the pilot) cheer them on, offer commentary, and occasionally join in the fun.  Prinze keeps the fun moving as host and emcee.


We’ve been a bit weary of the competition show format, so it’s always nice to see a fresh, upbeat take, without all the season-long drama, eliminations, and infighting.  First Impressions moves swiftly, giving each contestant plenty of time to showcase their talents.  Contestants on the pilot spoofed both perennial favorites like Al Pacino and Christopher Walken, as well as surprising choices like the hilarious Jennifer Coolidge (Legally Blonde, A Mighty Wind) and Drew Barrymore.  Everyone loves standup comedy, and the impersonators were fun to watch.  But the real draw for the show is Carvey and friends.  Carvey’s energy and enthusiasm are infectious, and the overall tone of the show is welcoming and collaborative, not combative.  At one point, when two contestants had each done impressions of Sharon Osborne, Carvey leaped from his chair and said, “I want to see the Sharons together,” initiating a joint bit where the comics played off each other.  It was a great moment that took this show to another level–not just game show, but comedy workshop.

Continue reading