by Tony Schwab
The revival of “Mr. Show With Bob and David” – released on Netflix this past Friday – is well worth the watch for both longtime fans of the show and people who just find themselves wondering where Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Paul F Tompkins or Bryan Kenney got their start on TV.
The original show aired for four years on HBO in the 90s. A sketch comedy, the show was dark and deeply cynical in a way that was new on television. It never had a huge audience during its original run, coming at a time when HBO was more famous for it’s movies then it’s TV shows. Since ending, it has become a cult hit and many of it’s actors have had long careers. Odenkirk now plays Saul Goodman on Better Call Saul, David Cross has starred in Arrested Development, Tom Kenney is the voice of Spongebob and Paul F Tompkins is one of the country’s greatest comedians.
The five new episodes are more uneven than those of the original run. Very often they lack the bite of the original series. The first episode opens with a long series of jokes about the actor’s being old and out of shape. But as the show goes on, it picks up steam. Some sketches are very pointed and political. Christianity, Judaism and Islam are equally derided, with references to the new pope and the Charlie Hebdo controversy. Other’s are devoted to pure absurdism. One imagines a Steve Jobs-like character who tries to allocate some of his work to his two less successful brothers.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the show is the chance to see how the actors handle the show with radically different acting styles than in the original. In the original the actors were manic, rapidly going through punchlines, here they are more mature. There is a greater emphasis on impressions that are funny because they are over-the-top while still staying somewhat realistic.
Paul F Tompkins has changed the most since the original. In the 90s Tompkins was not a great name and was often relegated to playing the straight man in sketches. Here he is often front and center. The masterful vocal work of his standup is given it’s time to shine.
No show of this kind would be complete without guest stars. The best is Scott Auckerman, who plays the host of a game show that resembles Iron Chef but bases all of its dishes around Shark Meat.
Despite the inevitable changes that come with time, this is still very much “Mr. Show.” There is the same obsession with intricate episode structure, the same concern for pathetic, downtrodden character and the same ironic glee for the world. Cross and Odenkirk have said they may be interested in doing more episodes. If they can keep up the standard of these new episodes, they should feel free to do twenty more seasons.
Tony Schwab is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org