By Adam B. Vary
Updated October 15, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Shawn Bishop

As per usual, the title of the latest sketch show from venerable Los Angeles comedy institution the Groundlings has no connection at all to its jumbled collection of 19 skits (and two breaks for improv). Instead, in Groundlings Science Fair, we hop from the increasingly bouncy cockpit of a turbulent Pan Am airliner to a mid-aged couple (Jill Sachoff and Tim Brennen) renewing their vows with an off-key rendition of ”What I Did for Love” to two suburban parents (Ryan Gaul and Charlotte Newhouse) tripping on the shrooms their son (Michael Naughton) tried to smuggle through customs from their trip to Holland. The closest example of anything approaching a comedy ”experiment” is a sketch involving a lovelorn Swedish couple (Laird Macintosh and Ariane Price), a poorly made chair, and the creation of IKEA.

But wild comedy experimentation isn’t really what the Groundlings are about. The troupe’s focus on vivid characters and gut-busting physical comedy is why they’ve become one of Saturday Night Live‘s biggest farm teams. (Kristin Wiig, Will Ferrell, and Maya Rudolph are all alums.) So what you really want to know is who among the cast could be the next SNL star. Oddly enough, the first half of the show is hampered by a surfeit of Wiig-ified characters and last-half-hour-of-SNL-type sketches. But if I had to single anyone out, it would be the unfailingly game Newhouse. Her off-beat characters — a teenager who defies her father’s orders by acting like a startled raccoon, or a recent divorcée who doesn’t know how to end her rib-ticklingly awkward date — felt the most ready to be Not Ready for Prime Time. B