Mr. Show With Bob And David: "Bush Is A Pussy" & "It's A No-Brainer"
B+

Mr. Show With Bob And David: "Bush Is A Pussy" & "It's A No-Brainer"

B+

Mr. Show With Bob And David

"Bush Is A Pussy" & "It's A No-Brainer"

Season 3, Episode 7
B+

Mr. Show With Bob And David

"Bush Is A Pussy" & "It's A No-Brainer"

Season 3, Episode 8

Hello, fellow paragons of mediocrity! 

This week on our rundown of Mr. Show With Bob And David, we have, in my estimation, one of the weakest episodes of Season 3 and one of the strongest.  There's no shortage of high-concept, brilliant sketches in either episode, but in the former, "Bush Is A Pussy", they're separated by too many bits that don't work or go on too long, while in the latter, "It's A No-Brainer", they're punctuated by moments of sheer absurdity that break them up nicely.  Each episode has incredibly funny moments, but the glue that holds them together is what makes the difference.

We're now into the latter half of the show's third season, and it was finally beginning to get a decent amount of critical acclaim, and the beginnings of a cult audience.  Of course, it wasn't nearly enough; HBO still bounced it around (immediately after "It's A No-Brainer", Mr. Show was again postponed for an episode of Real Sex -- one that, if I recall correctly, featured Real Dolls and a German tree-fucker) and failed to promote it with any regularity.  But it got the kind of attention it desperately needed:  one that would establish the credentials of the writers and actors enough that they'd go on to have small but celebrated careers.  You can never really predict anything in show business, but if the show had been canceled after two seasons, I don't think we'd have seen a lot of these folks around as much as we did.

I usually fill up this space with philosophical musings about the nature of comedy, but since I know how eager you are to post comments, I'll spare you this time.  It's interesting, though, that I tend to think the more sketches a show has, the better, since that gives it less time to spend on a bit that isn't working.  This tandem reverses that:  "Bush Is A Pussy" features quite a few more sketches, while "It's A No-Brainer" is fairly lean.  However, too many of the numerous skits in the first episode lay flay and fail to develop, while the longer sketches in the second give themselves time to grow and breathe, increasing their potential for laughs.  That's this critic's opinion, anyway; let's take a look at why, and see if we all diverge as much as we did last time around.

EPISODE 7:  "Bush Is A Pussy"

What Worked:  This episode famously begins with Bob Odenkirk being 'replaced' by cretinous, unfunny comedian Kedzie Matthews (played with frightening accuracy by Tom Kenny), and every scene with Kedzie -- up to and including the unexpected but hilarious Dr. Katz appearance at the end -- is gold.  Mr. Show specialized in nailing the banality and predictability of bad comedians (remember "college favorite" Blueberry Head from previous seasons), and the way Kedzie proves both horrendous and horrendously popular works comedy magic and provokes some great reactions from Bob.  "24 Is The Highest Number", in which a mob boss orders his minions not to use any numbers higher than 24, is another one of those utterly ridiculous ideas that Mr. Show made to work so well just by pushing it to its limits and refusing to give in to the foolishness of it, and the result is one of the best bits in the episode.  Ditto "Philouza", an inverted take on Amadeus featuring clamorous marching band music:  it goes on way too long, but its sheer craziness carries it for quite a while.

What Didn't: "Worthington's Law", in which a system of human valuation based on income is proposed, features some good lines and a funny premise satirizing American greed, but like "Bad News Breakers", it delivers its idea quickly and then keeps going without much development, leaving you in the position lesser sketch shows often do:  okay, I get it already.  Move on.  Don't move on to "Ex-Siamese Twins", though, with Bob and David as conjoined twins with conflicting personalities:  it's a very un-Mr. Show-like sketch, plodding and obvious, that runs too long and delivers too few laughs.  It even resorts to prop comedy, which is always the dregs.  Placed at the center of the episode, it really drags the episode down.  Finally, the "Mediocrity" wrap-up at the end of the episode is a waste of time, restating the point the previous sketches have already made.  Less of this and more of Kedzie Matthews would have been better.

The Cast:  Tom just blows everyone away as Kedzie Matthews.  He's so amazingly good as a shitty comic -- he also played a degraded amalgam of Jerry Lewis, Charlie Callas and Marty Feldman in last week's "Dr. X Telethon" -- that it's almost upsetting.  David's best moments are in "Worthington's Law", playing a belligerent hawker who wouldn't be out of place on a FOX News finance show, and as a weaselly Steve Buscemi type in "24 Is The Highest Number".  Bob gets to showcase his angry side (in "Kedzie Matthews") and his silly side (in "Philouza"), but Tom Kenny aside, there's really no out-of-the-ballpark performances here, which may be one reason I'm not that crazy about it, since acting is such a major part of the show's success.

The Crew:  Again, everything is competent here, but nothing is spectacular.  Kedzie Matthews, once more, deserves the highest praise; they even get his costume (wacky-guy Hawaiian shirt, bad haircut, and sneakers) just right.  "Philouza" is also a lot of fun, nicely filmed and tricked out, but again, there's just not much that stands out in this episode.

Timely Comics:  Who'd have thought a scene criticizing a President Bush for getting us into a pointless war in the Middle East would still be relevant thirteen years later?  Oh, that's right, anyone.  Elsewhere, Kedzie Matthews is excitingly un-dated, since shitty comedians are virtually an eternal archetype, and "Philouza"'s pure goofiness probably helps it overcome its references to Amadeus.  I'm not sure how many people still remember Dr. Katz, though I think the bit succeeds even if you don't know its specific origin.

Pet Theories:  At the start of the show (and what a slick twist to bring in Kedzie!), David is wearing cargo shorts, albeit obscured by leg casts.  I guess that cooks my theory once and for all, but I'm still going to keep mentioning what he's wearing, because I'm easily amused.  One thing that's surprised me in re-watching these shows is how nicely Bob and David switch their trademark roles:  Bob's not quite as good at playing an annoying, self-congratulatory hipster type as David is at playing a bellowing, overconfident businessman/authority figure, but they manage to know their strengths while being able to slip back and forth enough to keep things interesting.  FAKE SPECIAL THANKS:  Jeff Torrington, working-class Scottish novelist and author of Swing Hammer Swing.

Deep Thoughts:  While I continue to be baffled at the disparity about which sketches people think are the best -- honestly, I cannot fathom how so many of you hate "Hunger Strike", which to me is almost self-evidently one of the greatest things this show has ever done -- I'm still highly appreciative at how much you all enjoy the show, and how much you've thought about your reasons for it.  So I'm interested to hear what you think about this, which I've rated lower than any episode to date:  is it really the first weak episode of the series, or have I been too hard on it?

Rating:  B-

Stray Observations:
- "You know, Bob, you really should do your errands before the show."  Brilliant!  I also love how Kedzie is overacting even when he's silently reading his script in the background.

- Kedzie isn't just any crappy stand-up comedian:  he's the 1992 Southwest Region College Comic of the Year, and the winner of the San Diego Red Owl Rye Laff-Quest!

- "WHAT THE FUCK!"

- "Now he's about as dumb as Einstein!  Way to go, Einstein!"

- I'm glad I don't have a Value magazine ranking monkey.  I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like what it had to tell me.

- Man, those kids are such a great choice for the Bad News Breakers.  I'm not fully sold on the sketch, but they're perfect.  My favorite bit:  "Come out with your hands up!", followed by Dino Stamatopoulos coming out looking for them with milk and cookies, only to be brutally tackled by the cops.

- Does anyone else ever picture "24 Is The Highest Number" playing out with the cast of The Sopranos?  It would work even better, without changing a word.

- Another great bit in that sketch:  David hiding behind the picture of Jesus.
 
- "I'm going to the general store!  For a phosphate!"

- John Ennis is wearing his same walrus mustache from the "Fad Three" sketch. 

EPISODE 8:  "It's A No-Brainer"

What Worked:  "Protesters", in which Bob & David play two guys who rise to wealth and fame via the medium of chanting catchy slogans, is one of my favorite sketches.  Again, it's a really simple premise, but it works by their sheer commitment to the joke, and the excellent overall conclusion.  That potent Mr. Show genius pays off at the very end, where, having become so successful through their protests that they've attracted protesters of their own, they chase them off through the superior power of their chanting.  Sketch shows -- Mr. Show included -- feature so many newscast parodies that they've become self-parodies, but "We Make The News" stands out:  in this one, a local newscast is too impatient for news events to actually happen, so it takes the old 'if you don't like the news, go make some of your own' saw and ramps it up through sheer gleeful malice.  "Jack Webber", featuring an unhinged Bob as a barely disguised Jack Webb, is a delight, borne forward on Bob's fantastic performance and the incongruity of the situation.  "Dream of a Lifetime" is a weak premise, and almost doesn't work for me, but the deliberately oblivious cheapness and shabbiness of the operation, and some of the half-assed techniques it employs in its quest to be a sort of cut-rate Make-A-Wish Foundation manage to crack me up every time.  And while the joke behind "Catholics and Satanists United" is pretty thin, the jocular relationship between the two religious leaders, as assayed by an indulgent David and a meekly excitable Bob, makes the whole thing worthwhile.

What Didn't:  "Dream of a Lifetime", as I noted above, almost goes astray for me, but I'm a sucker for jokes about conniving jerks trying to do something grandiose on the cheap, and their shitty half-measures manage to save the sketch for me.  The only other bit I have mixed feelings about is "Culture Hunt", which I'll discuss further below.

The Cast:  Everybody who gets a shot at appearing in "We Make The News" shines, from Jay's sadistic sniper to Paul F. Tompkins' rock-thrower to the underutilized Theresa Mulligan casually murdering a colleague.  Bob really gets some choice performances in as well, from his stone-faced, lunatic "Jack Webber" to his sleazeball operator in "Dream of a Lifetime" to his giggling Satanist in "Catholics And Satanists United".

The Crew:  The remote location filming on this show is always swell, and it continues to be good here with "Dream Of A Lifetime" and "We Make The News".  Some of the commercial parody work is well-done as well, and while there's nothing that especially shines costume-wise, as there is in most episodes, there's nothing that stands out as awkward or crummy, either.  The crew has really mastered the art of doing a lot with a little by this point.

Timely Comics:  Jack Webb, the impossibly uptight actor/director who was most famous as Joe Friday on Dragnet, may not be familiar to younger viewers, but the "Jack Webber" sketch doesn't really depend on you knowing that he did, in fact, make some seriously wack anti-communist propaganda films in the '50s; it's plenty funny without that knowledge.  Likewise, the "Let's Get Sloppy" ending of the show isn't really much enhanced by the knowledge that it's parodying Nickelodeon game shows of the 1990s; its humor comes from absurdity, not familiarity.

Pet Theories:  Opening outfits:  David in cargo shorts and what looks like a Charlie Brown sweater, and Bob not in a suit again.  I think I love the "Protesters" sketch beyond all reason:  who wouldn't like to go through life getting everything you want just because you can come up with a catchy rhyming slogan?  I wish the world really worked that way.  If "We had a bad car!/We want a good car!/Give us a car!/HEY!/Give us a car!" really worked, I'd be sitting pretty, I tell you what.  FAKE SPECIAL THANKS:  British comedian Harry Enfield.

Deep Thoughts:  As I mentioned above, the one skit I can't make up my mind about in this episode -- and which I'm never quite sure about, even having seen it at least half a dozen times -- is "Culture Hunt", in which callow young Ugly American types on a crude MTV-style game show visit the home where Anne Frank hid out.  It's got some good ideas (an effective parody of Americans who parade around the world with no respect for the local culture, and the entirely accurate gag that some Americans conflate "France" and "Europe"), but it doesn't have too many funny lines, and its conclusion, with David's character almost breaking down when he contemplates the heaviness of where he is, almost seems too preachy to me, too serious, a learning-moment instead of a laughing-moment.  But I can't say I really hate it, either; the concept is a strong one.  I'm curious to hear what you all think of this one in particular.

Rating:  A-

Stray Observations:
- "Hey hey!  Ho ho!  The girls we slept with have got to go!"

- I love how proud David is of Theresa Mulligan seizing the momentum by killing another Channel 6 reporter, and his gleeful smile when they cut to Jay's shooting spree.

- One thing I'll say about "Culture Hunt":  that is the shittiest stand-in for the Sistine Chapel of all time.  I think it's probably the Baptist church nearest to the studio.

- "Hello, Timmy.  Here's your red rubber ball.  Would you like to play with it?  Well, maybe later."

- "Inside every fifth American boy-child is a small dwarf.  This dwarf is an employee of the International Communist League."

- "I ruined weddings, parades, funerals, debutante balls, the Chinese New Year, and once a year, my own birthday."

- "Dream of a Lifetime.  Totally legit.  You can look us up.  Well, not right now.  We're not listed in the phone book yet.  Maybe Monday."

- When you can't get snow, macaroni plus frozen diet Shasta cola run through a cheese grater really is the next best thing.

- Man, that scene with Jay giving a baby massage.  That's shown up in my nightmares more than once.

- "Look at him go!  Someone put a nickel in you."