Friday, November 17, 2006

TV: First Impressions

It’s ‘Impressionists Week’ on The Late Show With David Letterman. If anything can get me to skip the interview segment on The Colbert Report, it’s a theme.

All of the segments are available on the Late Show website. Things kicked off on Monday with – who else? – Rich Little. Fred Travalena was on the next night. I hadn’t seen Fred in ages. When I was a kid, he was everywhere: game shows, talk shows, variety specials, and the unholy tandem of The Love Boat and Fantasy Island.

Last night’s performer, Frank Caliendo, had a killer set. His George W. Bush is hands down the best I’ve ever seen, but his John Madden is nothing short of channeling. Make sure you watch the Christopher Guest clip, which also involves an impression. For what it’s worth, I think the idea is almost as funny as Dave does. It all wraps up tonight with Kevin Pollak.

Here’s my impression of impressionists, having watched several ply their trade this week. Politics forces them to keep their acts current. (Right now I’m sure one of them is brushing up on outgoing Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, just in case.) But in terms of pop culture, the staples – Nicholson, Eastwood, Stallone – have been around for a while. The only contemporary star mimicked on Letterman this week was Jim Carrey, and that was actually a take-off on Ace Ventura. Changes in acting styles mean those big public personas simply don’t exist anymore. Try to imagine Frank Gorshin sending up, say, George Clooney and Will Smith the way he’d do Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. Makes me wonder who the big impressions will be twenty years from now.