In the 17 years since HBO’s Mr. Show—helmed by David Cross and Bob Odenkirk—went off the air, its fandom has endured more than most sketch shows. Mr. Show has survived online, mainly as YouTube clips, but it always worked better in episode form. It had a structure—every sketch was impressively linked. Fans talked about episodes in shorthand: “Wyckyd Sceptre,” “America blows up the moon,” “24 is the highest number.”
Netflix was smart to pursue W/ Bob and David, the new sketch show from Cross and Odenkirk; younger fans have come to know them from their TV shows: Arrested Development (which Netflix swooped in to save) and Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul, respectively. W/ Bob and David is coming back at a time when sketch comedy has populated and defined TV—Key & Peele, Portlandia, Kroll Show, Inside Amy Schumer—and it now thrives online on platforms like Funny or Die. Mr. Show’s influence can be found in those shows, but W/ Bob and David is not Mr. Show part two.
First of all, it’s only four episodes (plus a behind-the-scenes special), so it’s not necessarily binge-watch territory. You can drop in and out as you please. Not everything hits: The first episode’s sketch about changing the word slave to “helper” and a slaveowner insisting on thanking his “helpers” every day is cringeworthy, and the opening “time travel” bit gets tiresome quickly.
But it picks up after that. The “extra Beatle” sketch in episode 2 throws back to Mr. Show’s “Fad 3” sketch, and feels a little more true to form, as does episode 3’s skewering of AOL’s “digital prophet” Shingy and tech-bro culture. Episode 4’s “Salesman” sketch is actually somewhat touching, if a little dark. There’s also social commentary the Internet can latch onto: a sketch in which Cross films police, a bit about drawing the prophet Mohammed, a dive into reclaiming the “C-word” from “feminazis” that unravels unexpectedly.
Some critics might say this return is too brief, but it was actually kind of refreshing to blaze through four episodes and not feel depleted by a binge. Netflix is hitting the revival path hard (Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, Full House, Gilmore Girls), but W/ Bob and David feels more like a little present. Wisely, it doesn’t attempt to recreate the show that defined them 20 years ago. It doesn’t have to.
Photo by Saeed Adyani/Netflix