Hey everybody, it’s Bob and David!
This year is all about screens. Big screens, little screens, phone screens, watching things on your watch and on and on and on. It’s also about nostalgia: a superhero team that’s 50+ years old and a rivalry between septuagenarians. And it’s all about series: people want their entertainment and they want it now and streaming services have been more than happy to step up to the plate. No exception to the rule is the Netflix revival of the most beloved sketch comedy program in history, HBO’s Mr. Show with Bob and David. Netflix has slated four episodes with Bob and David for their new show With Bob and David, to be shot between seasons of Better Call Saul and Arrested Development. Which means right now.
Which is great news. Mr. Show’s genesis was an “Un-Cabaret” comedy troupe that included Bob, David, Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garofalo, Brain Posehn and other stand-up comedy greats. The writing staff of Mr. Show included many of the above as well as Bill Odenkirk, Jay Johnston, Paul F. Tompkins and other comedy writer greats. The result was some of the most ridiculous, tightest writing on television and a truly mind-blowing innovation: transitions between each sketch linking them together, so each episode of Mr. Show was one long rolley coaster of a narrative. Which makes it a little difficult to pull examples. Like a good stand-up act, much of the comedy turns back in on itself, and the linking between sketches makes whole episodes much more powerful than individual skits. That said, What Happened?! in hand, I have pulled ten of the best sketches in Mr. Show history to remind us all why we are so excited these guys are back in the saddle again.
Mr. Show has a lot of satire, sure, but much of it is deeper than you’d expect. What appears to be a Goodfellas sketch- an SNL Digital Short from 10+ years before they existed- is actually lancing those motherfather Chinese dentists who censor broadcast television.
More satire, this time benefitting from heavy revision in the writers’ room. Let’s take an idea, bicoastal music feuds and push it, and keep on pushing it. Choo-Choo is also a great example of inter-episode reference, the equivalent of incorporating your first stand up joke of the set into the punchline of your finale.
8. FF Woodycooks
Mr. Show at its most cartoonish. Paul F. Tompkins and Jay Johnston were born to play the roles of bumbling crooks. Vince Gilligan loved this sketch so much, there’s a little reference to it in Breaking Bad.
7. The Joke: The Musical
A musical with songs you absolutely do not want to get stuck in your head but probably will anyway. This is what I am talking about regarding the inseparability of sketches in the episode: episode 102, What To Think, has the character of Senator Tankerbell throughout censoring the arts to protect the people, as illustrated by an old joke he likes to tell over and over. The sharp writing of this sketch- lancing musical theater and as usual pushing the boundaries way beyond where you’d expect- help it to stand alone. Plus that milking machine (though).
6. The Devastator
More tight, tight writing. The whole cast shines in this sketch, the jokes build upon themselves and there are plenty of left-field throw-away jokes that are delightful as they are inexplicable. “Local Favorites?” Sure.
5. Megaphone Crooners
More stupid songs. More silly ideas. The Monsters of Megaphone Tour is another fine example of the writing starting in a strange place and going further and further out there. Episode 206, The Velveteen Touch of a Dandy Fop, is perfect from start to finish- Subway, Donut Shop, Megaphone Crooners, Greenlight Gang, Coupon: The Movie, every sketch and every link is flat out hilarious.
One of the basic tenets of Mr. Show is that yelling is funny, and this one delivers. A nice satire of the complications of relationships as told through landlords. The appearance of Paul F. Tompkins pushes it over the top and the song that results from his confrontation with David Cross pushes over the top over the top.
3. Pre-Taped Call-In Show
This is a brainy idea executed beautifully. David Cross nails it, the extras (Sweet Gerald) nail it, what could have been a train wreck of a sketch comes across hilarious. This is the kind of thing that people talk about when they infer the writing room were a bunch of stoners. This and the Druggachusettes sketch.
2. Lie Detector
This one has it all: the ensemble cast, the escalating humor, the fact that everyone on staff is a stand-up genius and knows how to deliver a funny line to make it funnier. Lie Detector and Ventriloquists (and Druggachusettes) are all sketches in episode 304, Oh, You Men, which is another of the strongest start to finish in the show’s history.
1. Founding Fathers
This is the best sketch on Mr. Show. Bob Odenkirk’s Jefferson, David Cross as Ben Franklin, Tom Kenny as some kind of weird Dead End Kids Lincoln, Button Gwennet’s flag, Franklin’s poo box, “One week later,” this sketch takes my breath away. Probably because I am laughing so damn hard.
Bonus sketch: The Legend of TJ O’Pootertoot
Leading up to Mr. Show was the short-lived Ben Stiller Show, featuring segments by Stiller, Bob Odenkirk, Janeane Garofalo and Andy Dick, and appearances by Dino Stamatopoulos, David Cross and so on. It was a Mr. Show primer, and nothing makes that clearer than the satire meets stupidity of this sketch. Plus another catchy song.
This barely scratches the surface: there were another half-dozen sketches I cut to get the list down to ten, and I’m sure there are many other favorites out there you’re pissed I’ve failed to highlight. Looking towards the future, we can’t say if With Bob and David will be good or not until it is released, but the writing staff being the same group of people- and very few of them have gotten less funny over the years- and the potential for guest appearances (everyone from Scott Adsit to Jerry Minor to Sarah Silverman appeared in the original), I have some serious hope. Looking at the present, post some more noteworthy sketches in the comments.