Our reviews of Mr. Show: The Complete Third Season (published September 15th, 2003), Mr. Show: The Complete Fourth Season (published October 13th, 2004), and Mr. Show: The Complete Collection (published January 17th, 2006) are also available.
"If you're going to write a comedy scene, you're going to have some rat feces in there."
Mr. Show with Bob and David is a must-see show for fans of sketch comedy and those bored by the normal constraints of network television. Often going where Saturday Night Live fears to tread, Mr. Show is a wonderfully funny, sometimes inconsistent, but overall exhilarating '90s comedy classic.
Facts of the Case
David Cross (Men In Black) and Bob Odenkirk (Dr. Doolittle 2) met in the early '90s at a comedy festival, and forged a friendship that resulted in a live show in Los Angeles, where much of the material in Mr. Show's first season was debuted. HBO took a chance on the pair in 1995, giving them the chance to take their show national. It ran for four seasons, and this set contains the ten episodes which made up the first two. Mr. Show is similar in form at first to SNL, with an opening monologue followed by sketches (Odenkirk was once a writer for that show). Where Mr. Show departs from convention is that each of the skits leads somehow into the next, in a blur of comedic stream-of-consciousness.
Sketch comedy is truly an art unto itself. Rooted in live theater, and often mistaken for being improvisational, sketch comedy is a written work that is performed, like a play whittled down to only its funniest moments. The most visible template in television is SNL, but it goes back to Sid Caesar and encompasses all kinds of oddities in television history: SCTV, Monty Python and The Kids in the Hall all left impressions on the world of comedy in their time. What all these shows shared in common were an irreverence for comic conventions which was wrapped up in a love for comedy itself. They were all funny in an almost confrontational way. The material was somewhat of an initiation: If you could get through the obtuse silliness of it all, you could be rewarded in a way you might not be with something more obvious. This is why all of these shows still have rabid fans. As Billy Wilder once said, "Let them put two and two together, and they'll love you forever."
Mr. Show is, for utter want of a better term, the slacker answer to this school of comedy. Much of the humor in the sketches is derived from their amiably apathetic attitude and low-key personas. David Cross, with his thick glasses and dry sarcasm, suggests Eugene Levy's coffeehouse-frequenting son. Bob Odenkirk is somewhat of the straight man, though his lunatic moments are many. The sketches mostly revolve around subversive discontent, with even the wackiest concepts usually rooted in social lampoon.
For instance, in "The Recruiters," a camera follows two college basketball recruiters who feverishly pursue fresh young ballplayers—young, as in, toddlers. Sure, it's funny to watch Odenkirk negotiate a five-year-old out of wanting to be a fireman when he grows up in favor of college basketball, but beneath it is the contempt for the surge of high school players going straight to the NBA at the time. It's played for laughs (the boy is promised he'll be both the President and a movie star), but the sting and ultimate satisfaction comes from its connection to reality.
Mr. Show has a disdain for production value, which is funny in some spots, and forced in others. The same way that performers are funnier when they commit to the material (instead of doing it with a wink), sometimes wacky ideas like the ones on Mr. Show seem like they would be funnier if they were less self-aware, and there was a little more time wasted making the sets and concepts authentic. Wasted time is funny, at least to me. Sometimes, however, the shoddy wigs and cardboard sets are perfectly suited to the material.
Also of note is what a tent pole of '90s comedy Mr. Show seems like now. The fashion, the laconic self-absorption, Janeane Garofolo, all of these will forever be synonymous with 1995, and they are all represented here amid one of the funnier shows to come out of the entire era. A standout is Jack Black who, though stirring in Airborne (the best surfer-moves-to-Ohio-against-will- and-rises-above-surfer-intolerance-through-rollerblading film of 1993), first showed his true comic chops to the world here.
Though the episodes are only a half hour each (albeit a "real" half hour, not the 22-minute half hours of network television), the discs are loaded with comedy thanks to the commentary tracks that are often just as funny as the show. Cross and Odenkirk are both dryly witty when speaking as themselves, but they come alive when they break into characters that "drop by" to record for the commentary. More than once, I was fooled into thinking these were real (and really odd) people. Also appearing are various cast members, who are equally amusing, and they give a nice glimpse into what it's like when a bunch of funny people get together.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you are the type of person that loathes Generation X jackassery, steer clear. These guys make Tom Green seem like an upstanding member of society.
Perhaps the best thing about watching this series is being reminded of the rush of unpredictable comedy. Even when it falls flat, it's more fun to watch something that takes a risk, and doesn't strain to be liked, than a thousand episodes of The Geena Belushi Madigan Patterson Show. It's a kick to see something that takes real risks, instead of merely parading as if it does while serving us the same old drivel we've come to accept (Mad TV being the current worst offender).
Mr. Show with Bob and David is cleared of all felony charges, but guilty of loitering and smoking in a restricted area.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with David Cross and Bob Odenkirk
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