“Middleditch and Schwartz” review


Ethan Schmidt, Radio Program Manager

Improv comedy has a special place in my heart. Ever since taking my first improv class in senior year of high school, I fell in love with its playfulness, spontaneous humor, and its emphasis on cooperation. That being said, when a member of the St. Louis Improv Facebook group shared an article on the Middleditch and Schwartz improv special on Netflix, I was ecstatic. Improv, especially longform improv, has always held a niche following, and seldom appears on professional film productions, so I am thrilled to see that the artform is getting some mainstream exposure.

Middleditch and Schwartz features improv actors Tom Middleditch (Silicon Valley) and Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation), who perform three one-hour improvised shows—meaning nothing is prepared or scripted. In each show, the duo asks audience members for a suggestion of a future event that they might be dreading. The actors pick up the first suggestion they receive and then ask the audience member for specific details on the event. After a few minutes of interviewing the member, the team begins their performance, incorporating different details from the audience member’s suggestion into their play.

Overall, they pull off some great performances. The team’s friendship drives their scenes, with both players quickly “Yes, and-ing” each other, and always doing their best to make each other look good—an attitude that is essential for fun improv. Additionally, a wide range of characters and relationships supports each performance, which create some funny and unique situations.

However, after seeing multiple performances in quick succession, two flaws in the duo’s technique become quite apparent. For one, they break character a lot. Of course, this is a little hypocritical of me, as I break character periodically. (Believe me, there are some scenes where it feels impossible to not let out a cackle.) Nonetheless, the duo breaks character so often that it seems like they might be doing it in order to get some cheap laughs. Even if it may be funny the first time, their habit gets old quickly.

That’s not the only habit that gets old quickly, though. While they show a knack for creating fun and interesting characters on the spot, they sometimes indulge in that knack too much. Middleditch and Schwartz will sometimes throw so many characters into a scene that they end up confusing the audience—as well as themselves. This confusion results in them having to waste time onstage figuring out what their characters’ names are, and once, this even results in the flat-out halt of a scene. They try to turn their confusion into a funny bit, but like their character-breaking habit, it gets old after the first show.

Of course, spending any more time doting on the show’s pitfalls wouldn’t be fair. They’re doing improv, so of course, the show is going to have some rough edges. If you’re looking for a polished program with an intricate, exciting plot, this program won’t satisfy your appetite. But, if you’re looking for a few hours of whimsical fun, or a glimpse into what longform improv looks like, Middleditch and Schwartz will certainly entertain you.