Ad lib comedy

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 January, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 January, 2000, 12:00am

Whose Line Is It Anyway? (Star World, 9pm) has been synonymous with British comedian and former barrister Clive Anderson. But in the American version, it is the stand-up comic, accordion player and former waiter Drew Carey who leads the comedy show.

Host Carey sets the scene for four comedians, including regulars Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie, with musician Laura Hall providing the musical cues, to improvise their way through the half-hour. This was a skill Anderson had learned well since his Cambridge Footlights days. It remains to be seen if Carey, in the more staged environment of American comedy, can match him.

Whose Line Is It Anyway? is regarded as something completely unique for American television, as improvised comedy that doesn't need 'no stinking scripts'.

This is in stark contrast to the rigging that went on in the games show Twenty One featured in Saturday's Quiz Show.

Twenty One, incidentally, is no longer just history. Yesterday, the show that was the most publicly compromised by corporate and contestants' greed returned to America's NBC network, hosted by Maury Povich.

There is nothing new about our avaricious age, as we're finding out in the intriguing Aristocrats (Pearl, 9.30pm), which is not just entertaining drama, but a fascinating portrait of the politics of the period.

Tonight's episode concentrates on the story of the scandalous Sarah. So far, we have seen her as a precocious, pretty child who catches the eye of the king, leaving us to expect a glamorous, even more precocious adult. Instead, she is transformed into a gawky and unhappy young woman as played by Jodhi May, her lack of social refinement only matched by that of the future King George III. In her, he briefly finds a soul mate, a haven from the artificiality of his court.

The complex characters being developed are surprising for period television, contrasting with the purer heroines, dashing heroes and roguish stereotypes of a Jane Austen romance. They reflect the realities of the age, when there was such a vast gulf between refined appearances and the gentry's amorality.

Despite the finery, these are shown to be ugly times, when ambition for position and fortune, against the common good, motivated politicians even more than today.

Politics form the backdrop to the series, the Lennox sisters having lived so close to the political epicentre. As such, their stories are far from static. Against the corruption, new ideals will reshape their destinies, and that of their country, pointing to more modern times.

The first we see of this is Caroline's disgust with her husband's policies and ambitions and Emily's choice of education for her children. When she cannot have the French philosopher Jacques Rousseau as their tutor, she settles for the Irishman he sends in his place, George Ogilvy, who will inject new radical idealism in the next generation.

Caroline's son, Charles James Fox, England's future Foreign Secretary, will also turn his back on his father's politics. He develops democratic tendencies, despite his own profligacy.