Hello, fellow employees of Marilyn Mozzarella's Pizzarella Pie Parlours!
Well, here we are at the end of our TV Club Classics recaps of Mr. Show With Bob And David. And what have we learned? Hopefully not too much. Comedy is a great teacher, sure, but the closer you get to learning something from it, the farther you get from laughing at it. That's why we study textbooks in school instead of joke books. But I've learned that Mr. Show holds up almost completely after fifteen years; I've learned that the quality of any given episode has less to do with David Cross' choice of pants than I previously suspected; and I've learned that after all this time, the show still has passionate, well-informed fans, which is why we're doing this.
When discussing the legacy of this, or really, any other show, there tend to be two camps: the 'originality' camp, who will praise a show for doing something unique or unprecedented, and the 'influential' camp, who will praise a show for having introduced some quality that became a major factor in television in its day. There's no reason a show can't be both — Lost, for example, was both original and influential — but in the case of Mr. Show, I have to side with the former camp. This is generally the case with sketch comedy, if not comedy in general; it's the possession of a unique voice, rather than the introduction into the culture of a new common language of comedy, that marks the best sketch comedy shows. Monty Python's Flying Circus had its imitators, but few could match its blend of educated surrealism and formal playfulness; SCTV and Kids In The Hall had unique voices and perspectives; and Mr. Show, as we've discussed, combined the silly and the extreme, the insanely clever and the deliberately stupid, and fused it with total commitment and a subversive approach that likewise made it more a singularity than a tastemaker.
In fact, that's one reason I've criticized a few of the weaker sketches for seeming generic. On one level, it shouldn't matter, right? If a bit is funny, it's funny no matter who's performing it. But on another level, that's not completely true. Some sketches that might have seemed perfectly funny coming from Saturday Night Live or The State seemed ringingly off when done on Mr. Show, because they just didn't have that peculiar, particular voice it developed from the very beginning, that style, irreproducible even by its own cast, that made the show what it was. This isn't to say that Mr. Show didn't leave a legacy; not only have Bob Odenkirk and David Cross gone on to become cultural figures of some influence, but the cast and writers they hired to help them make the show seeded a constellation of mostly L.A.-based alternative comedy who helped transform the entire medium and whose voices can still be heard in some of the best humor today But none of them have been able to replicate the greatness they had together on the best American sketch comedy show — and few of them have even tried.
This is the last of our recaps, and we end with two episodes that aren't the best Mr. Show has ever done, but are still solid, worthwhile installments that remind us of what Bob and David were capable of. They're excellent tonics to the unexpected mediocrity of the previous two episodes, and overall a good way to end this amazing show. I hope that you've stuck around 'til the end, and that we've had a mix of people returning to Mr. Show after many years and people enjoying it for the first time. Thanks for reading along with my recaps; it's been great watching these shows with you, and we'll see you next summer!
EPISODE 9: "Sad Songs Are Nature's Onions"
What Worked: The "Ratings Child" opening scores right away with its attack on the then-new mature content warnings, followed by the extremely bizarre element of throwing in the freaky chemo-patient-looking kid from Star Trek. "Debate", in which a political back-and-forth turns into playing the dozens on David's hapless fat guy, still stings in its depiction of voters as downright Springfieldian in their fickleness. David carries "Inside the Actor" with his uncanny parody of/attack on James Lipton; you can feel his hatred for the guy seeping out to the sketch. The way it segues into a bizarre parody of Dr. Smith from Lost In Space is a classic Mr. Show twist. And "The Teardrop Awards" is just an embarrassment of comic riches, from Bob's Brian-Wilsonesque "Mouth Full Of Sores" (apparently written in conjunction with obligatory fat kid Jerry Messing) to David's tragedy-co-opting sleazeball. It's heartening to see a show so late in the series' run cough up an all-time classic sketch like this.
What Didn't: Bob as Jerry, the music-seeking millionaire, is pretty slight, but it's just a link, so it doesn't slow things down too much. And "Earth Shoes", with Bob playing an idiot scientist who thinks Earth is doomed from too much walking, is likewise pretty rambling, but at least it's got some good Bob-yelling moments and leads into the return of Three Times One Minus One. This isn't the most thematically coherent episode, but there's very little weak material.
The Cast: The kid who plays the ratings child turns in what has got to be one of the creepiest performances ever on Mr. Show, and that's saying something. There aren't a lot of great performances in "Debate" (and I'm a bit surprised, given the late-season-4 tendency to bring back characters, that Bob didn't revive Sen. Howell Tankerbell), but David gets to make a fish face, and that's always a good thing. He also completely slays in "Inside The Actor", with his windy nasal pronouncements and baleful looks.
The Crew: Maybe it's just my lack of familiarity with the show (for all my own geeky qualities, I've never been much into science fiction), but it seems to me they really nailed the low-budget wondrous-on-the-cheap feel of Star Trek in the "Ratings Child" sketch, right down to the crazy-colored cocktails. Apparently the Ratings Child's parents both work at the same Sbarros. Top-notch special effects in "Inside The Actor" — those people really know how to work a plastic dinosaur — and the "No More Room In Heaven" video is perfect. (This episode features outstanding achievement in the field of immobile chin-beards.)
Timely Comics: It's a bit strange to see someone reacting so harshly against the on-screen mature content warnings; they were new in 1998, but now, we've gotten so used to them that they either seem invisible, or, as my colleague Noel Murray notes about their use in Sons Of Anarchy, they're a promise of good things to come. It doesn't hurt "Inside The Actor" that James Lipton has started making fun of himself; he only did it so everyone else would stop.
Pet Theories: David's penultimate Mr. Show opening-sequence outfit: long pants, hobo bindle, and an eggplant-shaped orange sweater. Oh, to be a Los Angeles-area thrift store employee in the late 1990s. Is the topless model reading the children's book the first nudity we've seen on this show not involving the asses of Bob, David and Brian Posehn? Way to hold out! FAKE SPECIAL THANKS: Boston-based indie pop band The Gravel Pit.
Deep Thoughts: The release of "Tears From Heaven" was a weird cultural moment, with a huge amount of public goodwill directed at Eric Clapton for the accidental death of his son almost instantly clashing with an equally huge reaction against Eric Clapton for seeming to turn that tragedy into something almost unbelievably mawkish, crass and awful. The parody of the situation in "The Teardrop Awards" certainly seemed like the most vicious reaction to it at the time, but in retrospect (and, honestly, even a little bit at the time), it seems like the only reaction that makes sense.
- "How am I supposed to trick little kids into seeing my butt with these damn warnings on the screen the whole time?"
- "Oh, the irony is like tears on Turkish taffy!"
- "Is this your wife? I got good news for the two of you: you can both do better!"
- "Nothing. I'm just looking at you."
- "Through a series of hand gestures and words, he explained the first two things that happen. He then proceeded to tell, or 'say', the third thing, or 'point'."
- "It's true: everybody loves to cry. And what can make us cry more than a sad song? I don't know."
- "I wish my boy could be down here to share this with me, but then I wouldn't have written the song, so, scratch that."
- One of the great bits about "The Teardrop Awards": how Bob's song about the death of his son has lyrics about how he learned about it by watching TV, even though it happened right next to him.
- "Sorrow is the key that gets our tears out of eye jail."
- "All hail the conquering impresario!"
EPISODE 10: "Patriotism, Pepper, Professionalism"
What Worked: The "Globo-Chem Corporate Retreat" intro builds nicely, from chuckling familiar parody to outright viciousness (Scott Adsit's reaction shots are a thing of beauty). The Behind The Music parody "Josh Fenderman" never fails to crack me up; it's not the strength of the piece so much as it is the insane physical comedy of B.J. Porter, first with his Michael Jackson imitation alongside his band Honesty In Motion, and then with the Corey Feldman dance clip, another example of repeating a joke so often it goes from funny to boring to transcendent. "Week-Long Romance" is a good example of comic timing: it has a pretty simple premise (a couple breaks up for a week, and while Jill mostly sits around moping, Bob undertakes a massive program of debauchery), and draws its humor from constantly raising the stakes — but right when the premise starts to run dry, they abandon the sketch (for a look at the hit single "Praying Machine" by 2001: A New Wave Godyssey). It's done at exactly the right time to keep it from getting overlong; the writers didn't always have this ability to time things just right, but here, it's part of why the sketch works so well. The return of Marilyn Monster is also better than expected, quickly switching gears from the obvious to a nasty take on faux-rebellious corporate culture — tying it in nicely to the episode's theme.
What Didn't: "Buddies", where a couple of distant acquaintances keep running into each other in increasingly awkward circumstances, outstays its simple premise by a good bit, and seems tonally off; its mid-point shift seems confused rather than inspired. Likewise, "Vendetta", about an endlessly spiraling series of amateur porn movies, stretches a good joke out to the point where it gets into diminishing returns. Neither of these sketches is really terrible, but unfortunately, they both come right at the end of what proved to be the last episode, making it seem like more of a low spot than it really is. (The bittersweet little "roll those credits" P.A. makes up for it somewhat.)
The Cast: I probably haven't given Scott Adsit enough credit on this show; his bits are almost always inspired, and he did a great job of filling in for some of the key cast lost from seasons 1-3. B.J. Porter really gets a chance to shine in this episode, too, and comes through like gangbusters. It's usually pretty thankless playing the straight role, but Jill Talley does a fine job in "Week-Long Romance".
The Crew: In what would prove to be the final episode, the behind-the-scenes folks do a great job: every parody looks spot-on, from Honesty In Motion to the bland-looking Globo-Chem execs cavorting with golf pros in washed-out-looking photos) to 2001: A New Wave Godyssey, a.k.a. Flock Of Seagulls Goes Evangelical.
Timely Comics: Nothing really dated here, other than the notion that someone might actually be shocked by Marilyn Manson.
Pet Theories: Bob and David end the series in Globo-Chem Corporate Retreat t-shirts, in keeping with the depressing enforced-fun vibe familiar to anyone who's been to one of these ridiculous motivational seminars. This is the second episode in a row where David is referred to as Danny; were they planning on replacing him with the then-17-year-old Dan Mintz? The world may never know. FAKE SPECIAL THANKS: Lawrence E. Walsh, the independent counsel who was in charge of investigating the Iran-Contra scandal.
Deep Thoughts: Although the last two sketches were somewhat weak, they don't keep this from being one of the better episodes of Season 4. There would be no more, but Bob & David went out on a high note; Mr. Show not only helped launch the careers of half-a-dozen excellent comedians and comedy writers, but it made television a more welcoming medium for what became known as 'alternative comedy', a development that helped get shows like Arrested Development, Community, and the Adult Swim line-up on the air. Mr. Show was, as I mentioned earlier, unique, but if it left us a legacy, if it proved itself an influence, it was in making TV executives a little more open to taking risks on unconventional comedies. The hard work put in by Bob & David against indifferent producers in the 1990s are a big reason why television in the 2000s was so good.
- "CHALLENGE + TEAMWORK - INTITIATIVE + GOALS = ACHEIVEMENT & EXCELLENCE"
- "Well, his adult diaper broke, and I slipped in his shit."
- "It's pumpkininny!"
- "Three of his six films were in the Top Ten of Twelve of all time."
- "WARNING: This Dollar Is Not Yours After You Spend It."
- Love the little hey-baby look Jay Johnston gives Jill in "Week-Long Romance", after slugging Bob in the face.
- "The MOST people!"
- "Now go out there and have yourselves a wild and unconventional good time. And remember, at least 27% of your beverage sales must consist of alcoholic blended call drinks."
- "FRIENDLY ACQUAINTANCE DIES/FRIEND IS SAD"
- We learn, in this episode, of the tragic deaths of both Ferval Lankman and Van Hammersley.