Our reviews of Mr. Show: The Complete First and Second Seasons (published July 10th, 2002), Mr. Show: The Complete Fourth Season (published October 13th, 2004), and Mr. Show: The Complete Collection (published January 17th, 2006) are also available.
"Do we hurt, or do we help?"—Bob and David
Once upon a time, there were two beautiful boys who went to the Comedy Academy, and they were each assigned very hazardous duties. But I took them away from all that, and now they work for me.
My name is Mr. Show.
At the time I write this, there is a secret government warehouse somewhere in California. Two aisles up from the Ark of the Covenant, shelved in between the missing reels of The Magnificent Ambersons and the contract for Michael Bay's soul, there sits a crate. The label on the crate reads "Run Ronnie Run." Inside, the Mr. Show feature film sits, its reels unmolested.
Oh, wait. Run Ronnie Run is finally coming out on DVD this week. Forget I said anything.
What we have here before us is Season 3 of Mr. Show with Bob and David. Describing comedy, especially sketch comedy, in a review is terribly difficult. Repeating the jokes is never as funny, because their success comes in the performance. For instance, how can I convey the delights of "Druggachusettes," perhaps one of the most sublime pieces of television sketch comedy ever captured? On the surface, it is a parody of those Sid and Marty Krofft shows that I remember from my childhood, where freaky puppets danced spastically around while children who were clearly raised by hippies vainly tried to keep order. And you thought years later, what were those guys smoking when they made H.R. Pufnstuf?
Well, now we know, as an annoying little British kid and his talking bong help the addled residents of a magical land order a pizza without freaking out. But that description does nothing to make the sketch seem either funny or subversive. You just have to see it. Then you will understand.
That is the problem that we fans of Mr. Show have in explaining to people why this was the sharpest sketch show of the '90s. Even people who had HBO at the time never watched Bob Odenkirk and David Cross tear into American culture for four short seasons. Hell, most people have never even heard of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. No, Bob Odenkirk is not that idiot who makes the thumb-puppet parodies. He is a Second City vet who wrote for Saturday Night Live and the woefully underappreciated Ben Stiller Show. And David Cross is not that guy lurking in your bushes trying to peek into your bathroom. He is…okay, he is trying to peek into your bathroom. I'm not going to cover for him anymore.
Actually, the only person you probably recognize from Season 3 of Mr. Show (since Jack Black left—hey, when are we getting Tenacious D on DVD, HBO?) would be Tom Kenny, but only his voice. But would The Powerpuff Girls be the same without him? Anyway, like Philip K. Dick and the Velvet Underground, Mr. Show went unheralded in its lifetime, languishing in the late-night cable gutter while less-talented shows dressed up and partied. But while those other shows faded quickly, Mr. Show has only gained in its reputation over the years. Soon, it will grow large enough to take over a medium-sized country. And then, it will have guns.
In the meantime, enjoy these facetious descriptions of the ten installments of Season 3:
Episode 1: "Heaven's Chimney": Terra-da-loo! Let's all go up Heaven's Chimney as the boys satirize religious extremism, the bonds of friendship are tested by perverted sex, and killer rollercoasters stalk the land. Don't forget to send your donation to those televangelists for Satan while you're at it.
Episode 2: "Peanut Butter, Eggs, and Dice": A "very special episode" in which David comes to grips with a certain little problem that has nothing to do with a Ronnie Dobbs musical or movies about the mentally challenged.
Episode 3: "Oh, You Men": It's Druggachusettes! I don't think I need to say any more.
Episode 4: "Flat-Top Tony and the Purple Canoes": It's lady's day on Mr. Show, with special guest stars Smoosh and the prophet Nostradamus. And maybe you'll learn some tricks to please your man in bed!
Episode 5: "Please Don't Kill Me": David must put some nickels in the swearing jar. Now where was that swearing jar a couple of episodes back when Cock Ring Warehouse had a sale?
Episode 6: "Goin' On a Holiday": Bob and David welcome their families, then go streaking. Everybody has an affair with Lee. We blow up the Moon. It'll make you proud to be an American.
Episode 7: "Bush Is a Pussy": Bob's understudy, a bad college standup comic (is there any other kind?) fills in—and takes over the show. And you had better accept that 24 is the highest number, or there will be trouble.
Episode 8: "It's a No Brainer": Meet the world's best protesters. Find the beanbag hidden in Anne Frank's attic. Enjoy it now, because HBO is going to pre-empt the show next week for one of their late night sex documentaries.
Episode 9: "A White Man Set Them Free": Bob and David say "you're welcome" for Emancipation. David speaks to cartoon animals, Bob gets wounded in 'Nam, and John Stewart looks a little bit confused by it all.
Episode 10: "The Return of the Curse of the Creature's Ghost": If you have made it this far in the review, you probably don't need me telling you bad jokes about shows much funnier than I am. Let's move along.
Languishing in the ratings dead zone, Bob and David took full advantage of their tiny audience's loyalty to unleash risky material. Would any other show have dared a sketch like the one where metal band Titanicca visits their biggest fan, reduced to an acid scarred stick figure after listening to their music? If another show did, I guarantee that did not make you injure yourself laughing like Bob and David do. As satirists, the writers of Mr. Show were at the top of their game in Season 3. Clusters of sketches within each episode cohered around clear themes: nostalgia and television in episode 3 or political correctness in episode 9. Common themes throughout the series were standard fare for satire: middle class domesticity, the power of media, sexual propriety. Backed by a fine ensemble, including the aforementioned Tom Kenny, Jill Talley, John Ennis, and a whole bunch of other people currently struggling by doing Nickelodeon cartoon voiceovers and minor sitcom appearances, every episode links together filmed sketches and material performed in front of a studio audience whose laughter does not need to be prompted by big, lighted signs.
It is a sign of how fine the chemistry is between Bob and David that even the promotional spots they shot for HBO (included in this set) are conceptually brilliant. We also get a "best of" episode highlighting bits from Season 1, which is only fair, since the Season 1 and 2 set came with a "best of" episode for Season 3. Bob and David ply their trade at the 1997 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in some brief clips that feature bad skiing, recycled wine ("for the poor people—person—of Aspen"), and the International Heckler Festival.
As with the previous Mr. Show collection, every episode features the ensemble cast (11 people, not all at once) reunited for complete commentary tracks on every episode. They ramble, laugh at themselves, and ad lib brilliantly, sometimes even being funnier than the original sketches they are talking over—which is some sort of miracle at the very least. They redub dialogue, parade out fake "guest stars," and generally create pure, inspired chaos. How often do commentary tracks have replay value?
Plus, you get Eben Schletter's trippy score for "Druggachusettes." This sketch is even weirder without the dialogue. In fact, make up your own. Invite your friends over for Druggachusettes karaoke!
Still not convinced? Oh, I give up. Go back and watch Everybody Loves Raymond. You obviously are not smart enough to handle Mr. Show. Ppppffft.
Buy Season 3 of Mr. Show with Bob and David, if only so David does not have to put on the little dress again and beg for coins. They are depending on you. Besides, you will get this nice little ribbon for your act of charity. Oh, and some of the funniest comedy you have ever seen.
Bob and David are released back into the wild to propagate their species. HBO Video is ordered to release the fourth and final season of Mr. Show with all haste. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Bob and David and a Room Full of People
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