Thirty episodes later, I feel like I’m part of some sort of hidden cultural lexicon. I now know where Druggachusetts is, and how insane that guy’s taint is, and many other things that [exclusivity coming] just wouldn’t make sense in a world without Mr. Show. It’s an intense, weird investment of time, definitely “patchy” (as it was described to me before I watched it), but if you’re a self-proclaimed comedy nerd, it’s worth it. And then you’ll be able to bring it up in conversation and be that person that made the profane reference that no one gets. (I’m speaking from experience.)
Flower-sweatered and beat-up-shortsed David Cross and crisp-suited Bob Odenkirk are weird guys, and they sort of eschew mainstream sketch comedy. Odenkirk was actually a writer on SNL for a little bit, and as I learned in a book I’ll be reviewing shortly on this here blog, he wasn’t a huge fan of the way things worked over there. To each his own, for sure. And so he and Cross did their own thing, on a network that allowed swearing and nudity and general heathenness, and the results were oft hilarious. Oft not, too, but that’s part of it. They were giving their version of a sketch comedy show a shot, and in the process they also trained a bunch of writers who have now come to be the leaders of LA alt-comedy, like Paul F. Tompkins, Scott Aukerman, Sarah Silverman, Tom Kenny, John Ennis, Scott Adsit, Jay Johnston, and Brian Posehn. The world is an odder, better place because these guys are making it funnier. Trust. And, even more credit to these, they’ve all aged incredibly well. It’s not often that you look better at 40ish than at 25ish. (PFT gets more dapper with age, folks.) It’s pretty fun seeing them all as kids, clearly goofing around and having the greatest time. It’s like The State, except it’s not The State. Apples and oranges, but still fruit nonetheless.
Odenkirk and Cross are still at the tops of their games, branching out into different kinds of acting while always remaining somewhat oddball. If you closely examine Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad, for example, you see that he’s not really a straight-up serious portrayal; Bob Odenkirk does it a bit tongue-in-cheek. Conversely, on Arrested Development, there’s an earnestness to David Cross’ Tobias Funke that’s almost tragic. These guys commit so well to their characters, no matter the size of the role, that it’s impossible to tell when they’re joking around because they’ve got sincerity nailed. Maybe that’s why their sketches worked so well even when they didn’t look the part. They committed.
Before I shut up and let some of my favorite sketches speak for themselves, there is a very special, brilliant aspect of Mr. Show that can’t be conveyed in YouTube clips. It’s the fact that these guys made a point of unifying all the sketches within a show, be it under a single theme or through some sort of hilariously weak connection between the last scene of one sketch and the first scene of the next. Shows just don’t think about that continuity anymore, though admittedly commercials probably prevent it from being a more prevalent feature, but it was incredibly refreshing to see just how much thought went into the show as a whole, and to see all the sketches flow so smoothly into one another. It was as close to old-fashioned, I Love Lucy TV integrity that a show with this much talk of boobs and balls could have. I digress, though. Here are the bits that cracked me up the most:
“Change for a Dollar” from “The Cry of a Hungry Baby,” Season 1, Episode 1
“Drunk Cops” from “The Biggest Failure in Broadway History,” Season 2, Episode 3
“Everest” from “The Story of Everest,” Season 4, Episode 4
“Inside the Actor” from “Sad Songs are Nature’s Onions,” Season 4, Episode 9
Finally, my absolute favorite, “Swear to God.”