8 Memorable TV Scenes That Were Improvised

Over on Reddit, humble users “TRULY_MAGNFICENT” and “MakeMeASteak” have been rounding up famous movie scenes that were “unscripted.” There’s Full Metal Jacket, The Shinning, and Good Will Hunting, among others, as well as hundreds of suggestions for other films from equally modest commenters. It’s a pretty decent read, so I thought I might be interesting to round up TV scenes that were either entirely or partially improvised.

TIL: much of Whose Line Is It Anyway? was made up on the spot. Who knew?

1. “Gay Witch Hunt,” The Office

Watch Oscar’s face after he apologizes for calling Michael “small.” It’s clear he has no idea what Steve Carell was about to do. No one did. That’s because after doing multiple takes where Michael doesn’t kiss Oscar, Carell decided to change things up a little bit. In a Paley Fest panel from a few years ago, writer/actor/non-Scranton Strangler Paul Lieberstein noted that in one take, the one that ended up in the final cut, “Steve just won’t let Oscar turn away. He got closer and closer and it just got creepy.” The actors were losing their sh*t offscreen, but the camera stayed on Michael and Oscar, so the footage was usable.

2. “You Only Move Twice,” The Simpsons

It took me years to understand the “you want some cream?” joke. It was worth the wait. Anyway, Albert Brooks can do whatever Albert Brooks wants, because he’s Albert Brooks, including essentially write his own Simpsons dialogue, whether he’s playing Jacques or Hank Scorpio. The entire “hammock district” bit: made up on the spot. According to writer Josh Weinstein, “Homer’s reactions are exactly like someone talking to Albert Brooks.” More than two hours of Brooks’ Scorpio dialogue exists, and I want it all. She’ll get in the hammock with you!

3. “Stakeout,” Parks and Recreation

Amy Poehler has stated time and time again that there’s not as much improv on Parks and Recreation as you might think (“Nine times out of 10, we’re like, Um, the jokes [in the script] are better than what we’re trying to think of”), but it does happen occasionally. Patton Oswalt’s Star Wars filibuster is the most obvious example, but creator Michael Schur’s favorite line of the entire series was improvised by Chris Pratt. In season three’s “Flu Season,” Andy informs Leslie that he typed her symptoms into the computer and she has “network connectivity problems.” Brilliant.

4. “Mole Hunt,” Archer

In the first episode of Archer, Sterling catches his mother having phone sex. She scolds her son, saying, “Then get out, and for god sake take a shower. Smells like a whore house in here.” While leaving her office, he mutters, “OK…your own fingers,” followed by, “Johnny Bench called…” The full explanation of the joke can be found here, but according to Adam Reed, “The Johnny Bench line was an adlib. It was totally apropos of nothing. There was no hidden meaning…That just was blurted out in the booth.” It’s even funnier when dinosaurs are involved.

5. “An Indecent Thanksgiving Proposal,” Bob’s Burgers

KILL THE TURKEY. Bob’s Burgers is the best at many things, but it’s the BEST at original songs, some of which were made up on the spot. Vulture confirms that the holiday-defining “The Thanksgiving Song” was “entirely improvised” by John Roberts, who voices Linda. As for “Butts Butts Butts,” well, that was written by God himself.

6. “The Butterfly Effect Effect,” Happy Endings

On a show full of brilliant one-liners, one of my favorites is Jane asking Brad, “Why don’t you ask tuppence a bag?” when he’s surrounded by pigeons. It’s about as obscure as it gets, and Eliza Coupe was shocked the improvised line stayed in. “Maybe it went over most people’s heads, but on Twitter people were like, I can’t believe you said that,” she said. “I think we have enough broad jokes and if [we get some] obscure ones, it’s like a little gem.” Miss you so much, Happy Endings.

7. “Foot Chase,” Justified

In case you’ve forgotten that Justified is the best, Boyd proposes to Ava in the same episode, “Foot Chase,” where Raylan wisely opines, “I think Lynyrd Skynyrd’s overrated. I know you’re in Boyd’s pocket.” So, yeah, Justified‘s the best, and part of the touching proposal was improvised. Take it away, Joelle Carter, when asked about the line, “Oh baby, it’s the other hand”: “He actually put it on the wrong hand. I don’t know if it was the rehearsal or the first take…It’s just so sweet. I don’t know if it happened because Boyd was nervous. To me, I feel like Boyd’s never asked anyone to marry him before, so that’s why it happened. I don’t know why it happened with Walton.”

8. Everything the Janitor says, Scrubs

Neil Flynn is a national treasure. He’s been doing stellar work on The Middle for years now, but he’s best known for his role as the vengeful Janitor on Scrubs. The cast and writers have routinely praised Flynn’s mastery of improv, including Zach Braff, who once said, “Neil is hilarious. He made up most of his lines. Sometimes a script would show up and when Neil enters it would just say ‘[Neil makes up something and then exits.] A true genius improvisor.” For what it’s worth, Braff’s “EAGLE” catchphrase was ad-libbed, too.