Hey everybody, it’s still Bob and David!
What’s left to say about Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ legendary series Mr. Show? It featured some of the brightest, most innovative minds in modern comedy both on screen and behind the scenes, people like Dino Stamatopoulos, Paul F. Tompkins, and Scott Aukerman. Though influenced by classics of the genre like Monty Python’s Flying Circus, SCTV, and Kids In The Hall, Mr. Show’s brand of off-the-wall absurdity and sharp satire still manages to be entirely unique and influential over twenty years later. Every sketch series from Key & Peele to Tim And Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! owes a debt to Mr. Show in one way or another, and it’s because their dedication to not only the laugh, but macro and micro sketch structure and comedy theory that sets them apart from their peers. It’s telling that you can almost immediately tell a Mr. Show-style sketch just by its tone. Together, Bob and David shifted the comedy landscape just by being themselves and making each other laugh. That was Mr. Show. (For more information on Mr. Show and its influence, check out TV Club Editor Erik Adams’ excellent TV Club 10 on the series.)
Now the two of them are back, along with the original cast and writers, for a new Netflix sketch series called With Bob And David, in many ways a more relaxed version of Mr. Show. While Mr. Show had the intensity of young comedy upstarts, felt in everything from the pacing and tight structure of the sketches to their general indignation with tradition of any kind, With Bob And David is the work of seasoned veterans who don’t feel the need to impress. This is absolutely not to say that With Bob And David is at all sloppy or haphazardly assembled, but structurally and conceptually, it represents an older, calmer sensibility.
But the first episode of With Bob And David confirms that Bob and David have retained their uproariously silly, pointed sense of humor. The first big sketch of the night features Bob and David emerging from a “real-time travel machine,” 16 years after the end of their “little-known comedy program,” only to be shocked that they haven’t traveled in time but have instead aged normally. It’s a nice way to introduce most of the cast back into the fold, especially Tom Kenny as Dr. Gilly Fartsworth, the doctor who sold them the real-time travel machine complete with a “De-Hyphenator” and “Age-Decreaser” buttons that he conveniently forgot to tell them about.
After the introduction, the episode almost immediately moves on to stronger material that showcases Bob and David’s comedic tendencies first established on Mr. Show. There’s the New Year’s resolution sketch that sets up the main runner throughout the rest of the episode—Odenkirk, Cross, John Ennis, and Jay Johnston play characters with outlandish New Year’s resolutions that all come true, while Tompkins’ character is unable to commit to his modest resolution of swearing off red meat. The George “No Nonsense” Jackson sketch exemplifies Bob and David’s devotion to a strange premise—Sandy “Some Nonsense” Whistleton takes over while George is on vacation and allows plenty of nonsense into the courtroom—allowing it to unfold naturally without constantly needing to punctuate every other line with a forced punchline. Finally, the Better Roots sketch captures Bob and David’s sharp cultural satire, focusing on the efforts of misguided white folks to defensively whitewash history and make long histories of oppression about them instead of the victims.
Most importantly, With Bob And David is very, very funny. Aside from all the structure and theory, these jokes work both on a conceptual and gut-level. After seeing the episode twice, I was pleasantly surprised by how many jokes that worked theoretically the first time through became directly funny on the second viewing. Plus, it’s the little things that always set Bob and David apart. It’s that David reads 1001 Hilarious Bathroom Exit Lines before he leaves the bathroom, or Bob’s random affected southern accent during the Prilo-Vac commercial, even though he’s ostensibly playing a Jewish freelance pope, or Peter Allison Montcrief, director of Better Roots, insisting on placing “The End” at the end of every clip of the film he shows for a talk show. It’s inspired in a restrained way, as if they’re placing some of their best jokes in the margins of scenes for the hell of it. Sure, With Bob and David is not Mr. Show, but it’s off to a funny, exciting start. In the words of Pope Jonah Abramowitz, “Yee-haw!”
- One major difference between Mr. Show and With Bob And David is that there are fewer links between sketches. Mr. Show would often embed sketches within one another to seamlessly transition between them, while With Bob And David only does this occasionally.
- It’s great to see Jay Johnston get to showcase his comedic talents in the foreground once again. He was always the “glue” of every Mr. Show sketch.
- Mr. Show could always come up with a great name. Every single name in the episode is a laugh.
- This episodes features two of my very favorite margin jokes. The first: The sign in the real-time travel machine that says, “Whoever The Asshole Was Who Pooped Outside The Bucket, Please Stop. Thank You.”
- The second: The small print in the Prilo-Vac commercial, which reads: “All things are possible while taking prilo-vac. Use the direction as directed in the directions. I believe it’s 14 days. Do not use more than less than 14 days. Ever. If needed, unused. But only before the 14 days are up. If after, then that’s it really. Good luck.”
- Also, “turkey oysters” is a minor stroke of genius.
- “Well, David, you look really fake old.”
- “You don’t think I can be a major film director, so you pitch this no-meat, over-the-top bullshit!”
- “When you eat like a giant baby with money, your stomach can feel like Dante’s Inferno.”
- “Dignity all around!”