Mr. Judge Patrick Bromley hopes to make a little f***ing difference with this review.
Our reviews of Mr. Show: The Complete First and Second Seasons (published July 10th, 2002), Mr. Show: The Complete Third Season (published September 15th, 2003), and Mr. Show: The Complete Collection (published January 17th, 2006) are also available.
Hey, everybody—it's Bob and David!
Good comedy is serious business. No one knows that more than comedians Bob Odenkirk (Melvin Goes to Dinner) and David Cross (Scary Movie 2), the creative team behind HBO's giddily brilliant Mr. Show, whose fourth and final season now comes to DVD—a must-have for comedy aficionados everywhere.
Facts of the Case
Rather than going through and describing each episode—which would be rather difficult to do with a sketch show—here's a list of the episodes that appear in Mr. Show: The Complete Fourth Season. The names alone ought to make you laugh.
• "Life is Precious and God and the Bible"
It's no secret to anyone who reads my writings here at DVD Verdict with any kind of regularity: Mr. Show is my favorite sketch comedy show of all time. I find a way to make mention of it nearly any time I'm reviewing a comedy or television show—it's become the standard against which I judge all things funny. I'm not claiming it's the best sketch show of all time (as I'd hate to invoke the wrath of the legions of Monty Python or SCTV fans), just that it's my personal favorite—and criticism is nothing if not entirely subjective, right?
Some sketch comedy shows, though not very funny, are easily accessible—the current Saturday Night Live or latter seasons of Mad TV come to mind. Though the jokes aren't terribly sharp or the humor at all higher-level, there's nothing that might alienate audiences of those shows—even if it isn't funny, at least everyone can get it. Sketch comedy along the lines of Monty Python or The Kids in the Hall , on the other hand, demands more from the audience and carry the potential to be more divisive; either you're With It or you're Not. Mr. Show is sketch comedy in the latter tradition; it weeds out factions of its audience by appealing to more specific comedic sensibilities. The humor cannot easily be explained to an outsider; the same sketch that inspires fits of laughter in one viewer will inspire little more than slack-jawed boredom in another. This means that not everyone will find Mr. Show funny, but then this is not Easy Comedy—it requires level two (and occasionally even level three) thinking.
Like any comedic entity worth its weight in banana peels, Mr. Show employs every style of humor, but always for a higher purpose. The majority of the material is designed as satire, but not so as you would know it—it's cloaked in so much chaos that one can sometimes forget just how clever and intelligent it really is. Even when delving into crassness or vulgarity (and the show ran on Pay Cable, so it often does so to extremes), that particular brand of comedy is only being utilized to make a point. A sketch about a restaurant so uppity it doesn't even have a restroom (requiring guests to defecate into a hand-crafted mahogany and velvet-lined box right there at the table) manages to be absurdist, gross-out, and satirical of the acceptable norms of wealthy upper-class society all at the same time. This may seem too clinical an examination of a show that's supposed to make us laugh, but then discussing in-depth or analyzing exactly what makes something funny is the surest way to strip it of its humor. It goes back to something the late, great Gene Siskel used to proselytize—that the two things that you cannot convince another person of are what is Sexy and what is Funny. Either you're on board with what Mr. Show has to offer, or you're left cold by it; it's comedy with no middle ground.
What's remarkable about Mr. Show is the seemingly endless depth of its comedy—a given episode requires multiple viewings just to get through all of its layers. Unlike a show like, say, Saturday Night Live (and though it may seem like I'm just picking on that show at this point, it does serve as a perfect antithesis of what works about Mr. Show), which establishes a premise through lengthy exposition and then sticks solely to that initial concept, Mr. Show allows no time to be wasted. There are no throwaway or "setup" lines of dialogue, because they're always being funny. There are jokes buried within jokes, jokes on top of sight gags, jokes on top of sight gags buried within jokes. And because the series is written and taped over an extended period of time, there's never the SNL-inspired (sorry, guys—last time, I promise) temptation to fall back on easy pop-culture references or political parody. The humor in Mr. Show's sketches come out of character and situation, not simple recognition.
The fourth season wavers a bit around episodes six and seven with a pair of disappointing shows, and it's this bout of unevenness that keeps Mr. Show's final season from being its finest. It's not that those particular episodes are outright bad, but rather that for once the emphasis seems to have been on being esoteric over being funny; the result is a pair of shows that, like the occasional Kids in the Hall sketch, is too far out there to totally work. The rest of the fourth season, however, is so good that it more than picks up the slack, making it required viewing for anyone who's a fan of real comedy—the kind that's actually funny.
Mr. Show: The Complete Fourth Season comes to us courtesy of HBO, who, during the brief time that the two shows overlapped, had bragging rights to both the best dramatic series (that being The Sopranos) and the best comedy series on television. The ten episodes that make up The Complete Fourth Season are spread out over two discs, with each episode running just under a half-hour apiece. The video and audio components of the set are acceptable without exactly being exemplary, and should do nothing to distract from your enjoyment of the show.
Being that Mr. Show: The Complete Fourth Season will be the last release of Mr. Show, HBO has included more extras on this set than on previous seasons' releases. There's a short but amusing sketch of the boys from HBO's Comic Relief fundraiser, in which David convinces Bob to strip naked in front of an auditorium full of people. The bit is funny in an overtly shocking way, though it lacks the wit and edge of the series—shock value, especially in front of this particular audience, is the gag. There's also a "gag reel," which, in addition to highlighting a few of the cast's mess-ups, is cleverly edited to basically become a stream of nonstop profanity. A "Mr. Show Jukebox," highlighting the series's inspired musical numbers (the best this side of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut), and a brief staged reunion film round out the extras on the second disc.
The best extra on the set—and the only one that's appeared on the previous seasons' releases—is the collection of commentaries recorded over all ten episodes. Save for the presence of Cross and Odenkirk, the lineup changes for each episode—various groupings of the writers and the cast, plus the occasional "guest" (read: fake) commentator, are on hand to talk through what Bob and David consider to be the series's best season. Besides being almost as funny as anything on the show being commented on, the tracks provide a great deal of history as to how certain sketches came together—there's a story behind just about every one—and about just how seriously everyone approaches their craft (they show an obvious disdain for the "giggle through it" approach of SNL). In addition to the commentaries working as virtual "how-to" school for anyone interested in writing or performing sketch comedy, they offer invaluable insight into some of the sharpest comedic minds working today. Plus, they're funny as hell.
Let the lightweights stay glued to a certain TV show on Saturday nights, and convert to Mr. Show. All hail The Bob.
Bob, David, and Mr. Show: The Complete Fourth Season are understandishably found Not Guilty. Other sketch shows shall be forced to wear the Bloody Diaper.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Episode Commentaries
Review content copyright © 2004 Patrick Bromley; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.