Mr. Show: The Complete First And Second Seasons

Mr. Show: The Complete First And Second Seasons

From the first time it aired on late-night TV, Mr. Show began developing a cult fan base, as zealots disseminated the gospel one hastily dubbed bootleg at a time. Plagued throughout its run by low budgets, terrible time slots, and a network that didn't seem to understand it, Mr. Show ranks as perhaps the best-kept comedy secret of the '90s. HBO's long-delayed 10-episode, two-disc DVD release of the show's first two seasons ought to change that, allowing a larger audience to experience a program so smart and funny that it seems to exist on a higher evolutionary plane than its sketch-comedy peers. Spared the burden of having to appeal to the fickle tastes of a mainstream audience—or satisfy the demands of advertisers—Mr. Show was able to go places other shows wouldn't dare. While its contemporaries offered endlessly recycled recurring characters and tame jabs at O.J. Simpson and Bill Clinton, Mr. Show drew from a broader frame of reference, spinning comic gold from such pop-culture detritus as streaking, monster-themed novelty songs, and garish religious musicals. Combining the pop-culture savvy and cynicism of The Ben Stiller Show with the conceptual brilliance and finely calibrated silliness of Monty Python, Mr. Show originated as co-creators David Cross and Bob Odenkirk worked together as writers on Stiller's series. Following The Ben Stiller Show's cancellation, the duo performed onstage together, in the process developing many of the ideas and skits that would eventually become Mr. Show. The series' stage origins bubble to the forefront throughout its first season, which tends to lack the rapid pace and awe-inspiring comic density of subsequent seasons. But even in its earliest, roughest form, the show radiated an irresistible mixture of smarts and silliness. Cross and Odenkirk fancied unrealistic-looking wigs and costumes, but they got the details right when it mattered: A spot advertising the new, less hate-oriented Ku Klux Klan, for example, wouldn't be anywhere near as funny if it didn't capture the blandly sunny optimism of most advertising. A parody of Jesus Christ Superstar, meanwhile, captures Mr. Show's knack for satirical multi-tasking, as it simultaneously spoofs religious musicals and Gen-X mythology through the musical tale of Jack Black's video-golf-addicted slacker guru. Skipping assuredly from scathing satire to physical comedy to sheer goofiness, Mr. Show punctures phoniness and pretension wherever it finds it. The DVDs include a nice smattering of special features, chief among them the audio commentaries, which feature Odenkirk, Cross, and various cast members discussing the show with a mixture of well-earned pride and pitiless self-criticism. Even without special features, however, the DVDs would still be essential for anyone who believes that comedy needn't sacrifice intelligence for laughs.

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