Best of “Mr. Show”
Matt McMahon | Thursday, September 24, 2015
Before they were Saul Goodman of “Breaking Bad” and Tobias Fünke of “Arrested Development,” respectively, the comedians, writers and actors Bob Odenkirk and David Cross hosted a brilliant, perhaps insuperable, sketch comedy show on HBO. From 1995 to 1998, the titular duo of “Mr. Show With Bob and David” produced three seasons of nonsensical alternative comedy mixed with irreverent social commentary, much of which somehow remains relevant to this day.
With the help of a short order from Netflix, Odenkirk and Cross have reunited with their original team of comedy buddies from “Mr. Show” to film new episodes, now under the truncated show name “With Bob and David.” Recently announced, the new show will premiere on the streaming service on Nov. 13. A.V. Club broke the news, along with an exclusive teaser for the series. The production appears more expensive than how much the entire staff of “Mr. Show” probably made 20 years ago.
However, rather than speculate on the 20 seconds of content available at this time, now is the perfect time to look back on the show’s seminal original run, and some of the patented oddball comedy for which it was famous. The following is a completely subjective, non-exhaustive list of ten of the show’s finest sketches.
Bob Odenkirk plays the title character, an enthusiastic educational billiardist, starring in a commercial for his scholastic videotape series. Van Hammersly almost psychotically teaches his way everything from ‘50s movie stars to the 1974 Kentucky Derby through use of a pool table. The sketch is a perfect combination of Odenkirk’s sublime delivery and no-holds-barred, erratic physical comedy.
Imminent Death Syndrome
“Imminent Death Syndrome” is such an amazing, original concept. The origins of the sketch stemmed from Odenkirk not being able to commit to playing guitar at a party, continually strumming and stopping while saying, “Wait, wait,” like Cross’s character Larry in the sketch. IDS perfectly explains the inextricable rise of celebrities who seem to lack all talent. Since those affected are forever on the brink of death, people agree to treat them kindly in the last moments, which last their entire lifetime. Legends Jerry Lewis and Stephen Hawkin, among others, are not above jokes from the writers behind “Mr. Show,” both said to have suffered from the disease in the news story portion of the sketch.
Bob Odenkirk plays an interviewee being tested with a lie detector, presumably by a group of employees from a secret government organization. The interviewers ask escalating, outrageously specific questions, which he admits are all true. He plays the bizarre stories so matter-of-factly, while those around him become alternatively curiously giddy and absolutely devastated by his admissions. This sketch is perhaps the best showcase of all the talent that worked together on “Mr. Show,” featuring Paul F. Tompkins (“BoJack Horseman”), Jay Johnston (“Bob’s Burgers”) and Brian Poeshn (“The Sara Silverman Program”). The anti-climactic resolution to the entire proceedings is the only way the increasingly absurd sketch can possibly end, subverting the importance of the whole thing.
Mustard and Mayonnaise Commercials
“Mr. Show” regularly used the commercial format to break up some of their longer, bigger sketches. Still, the advertisements linking the show’s episodes were never of lesser quality. The trio of strung together commercials advertising jars of mustard and mayonnaise were the best of its kind. The idea is weird, but not that far from reality. Moreover, the tone of the ads are completely consistent with what they are making fun of. The last commercial, for mustmayostardayonnaise, which is a combination of a jar of mustard and mayo with a jar of mayo and mustard, is simultaneously upsetting and hilarious.
Commercials of the Future
From the second episode of the show, the advertising pitch sketch established the show’s vague big brother style corporation, Globo Chem. It also made great use of the show’s airing on HBO, piling a host of vulgar taglines for Globo Chem’s various products. In the process of the sketch, the pitchmen, Odenkirk and Cross bouncing off each other expertly, have to continually update how many products the company owns. The growing vulgarity of each commercial satires the extremes of advertisement, especially the use of sex appeal and other risqué audience-grabbing techniques. The final commercial spot, which devolves into a zoom out on the earth and shouted expletives, takes the conceit as far as it can go, and makes the sketch one of the most memorable from the show’s run.
Another staple of “Mr. Show” was the awards show ceremonies. The crowning jewel from the form is undoubtedly the string of “Teardrop Awards,” which acted as the Grammys of sad songs. The storyline over three years of awards shows is positively insane, starting with a showdown between Eric Clapton-esque guitarst’s tribute to his dead son and a Beach Boys-aping song about a singer’s mouth sores condition, making fun of Brian Wilson’s banal material. The events spiral out of control and provide a lot of fodder for additional, hilarious — and annoyingly catchy — sad songs.
Written by “Community” and “Moral Orel”‘s Dino Stamotopoulos, The Audition is a brilliant riff on language, which manages to milk the concept far further than imaginable. David Cross plays the auditioneee with just the right amount of hesitation to really sell the constant misunderstanding at the root of the sketch’s joke. Then, he gets to go off the handle, in typical David Cross style, berating the casters auditioning him.
Pre-Taped Call-in Show
Pre-Taped Call in Show unpacks like a nesting doll of anger. A spiritual sibling to The Audition, Pre-Taped Call-in Show uses David Cross’s best asset in another extremely smart bit of misunderstanding. Cross stars as the host of a call-in advice show, which covers a different topic every week. However, the show is pre-taped, so the viewers have to call about the topic the subsequent episode of the show covers, while watching an episode that has already taken calls the previous week. If the logic is confusing, like the show’s Intervention sketch that also escalates in reverse, it is supposed to be. But the way in which Cross’s distraught, hair-losing host ultimately explains it is so intelligently funny, it makes the whole complex logic worth it.
The Story of the Story of Everest
Nearly every other sketch from “Mr. Show’s” 30-episode run could vie for any other position on this list. However, on any given day, this last spot would always be reserved for “The Story of the Story of Everest.” This sketch is the best example of the comedic philosophy in which “Mr. Show” believes. The willingness to commit to a gag, however stupid and repetitive it may be, and to see all of its worth, is a rare quality to be admired and sought after in comedy. It doesn’t hurt that Jay Johnston exhibits absolutely perfect timing and physical comedy. The more than seven-minute sketch starts fun, gets trying about halfway through, and then plays out long enough to become funny again, coming completely full circle. The goofy silent movie stinger to the sketch is just the icing on the cake to “Mr. Show’s” finest.