W/Bob and David
(2015; dirs. Keith Truesdell, Jason Woliner and Tom Gianas)—
Last weekend I sailed into the Netflix maelstrom for the first time, and even though I occasionally felt like I’d stumbled across the 21st-century version of The Entertainment from Infinite Jest, it wasn’t too bad. Aziz Ansari’s new series Master of None is pretty great, and that single-take hallway fight scene from the second episode of Daredevil is as thrilling as ever. But I was also happy to check out the four episodes of W/Bob and David, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ return to televised sketch comedy after a nearly two-decade break.
Odenkirk is best known as Saul Goodman of Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul fame; in a just and fair world, everybody would recognize Cross from his role as Dr. Tobias Fünke on Arrested Development. Alt-comedy aficionados will remember these two abrasive, committed writer/performers as the co-stars of Mr. Show With Bob and David, which aired on HBO from 1995 to 1998. Mr. Show specialized in detailed, foul-mouthed, loosely linked skits that frequently pursued an idea up to and then far past its logical endpoint; at its best, it was the closest an American show ever came to re-imagining Odenkirk’s beloved Monty Python’s Flying Circus. There’s more of the same kind of thing in W/Bob and David, but this time around there’s a distinctly weird and confrontational Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! vibe in places. Take the animated opening-credits sequence, which depicts various characters dissolving into and bursting out of each others’ eyes and mouths while undulating rivers of Cross and Odenkirk’s heads flow by in the foreground and background.
Just like in the old days, organized religion and idiotic commercials are two of W/Bob and David’s biggest targets; in one sketch, a parent urges her child to stop talking about God as “some all-forgiving monster.” A courtroom TV show that has to replace a “no-nonsense” judge with a “some-nonsense” judge (before finally bringing in an “all-nonsense” judge) is one of several sketches as thorough and funny as the best Mr. Show bits. Not everything works; the behind-the-scenes look at a musical about a singing house is one of a handful of tough slogs. Throughout it all, Odenkirk proves a far nimbler, gentler, more sympathetic performer than Cross, who used to steal scenes with ease but now exudes an immobile surliness more often than he used to.
If you knew about this unlikely act TV necromancy before now, then chances are you’ve already scarfed it down. But if you aren’t sure whether it’s your thing, go find Rap: The Musical and the Lie Detector sketch online and see where they take you.