The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Posted by Matt on August 23, 2010

I usually have a hard time just sitting down and watching a lot of something. There’s a lot of TV series out there I’d probably like that I just haven’t gotten to watching, for example. I hope to rectify this soon enough.

I guess I’m starting with Mr. Show, the cult classic sketch comedy from the mid to late 90s. I’ve spent the past two weeks watching all 30 episodes, and I can easily understand why it’s received the lofty position it has. It’s a truly ambitious show, shooting for something far greater than the average show of its type, while at the same time embracing the most absurdist comedy possibly (now put that on the back of the DVD case!)

Although it fluctuates wildly throughout the series, the structure is really what struck me the most. It was fun to see all the scenes transition into each other (which is something that posting Youtube videos of scenes can’t truly capture, although that isn’t stopping me from posting them) and how they connect in other ways, especially in earlier seasons where each episode had a central theme (not the ones that did away with them for the most part, season 4 especially, really suffered significantly from it). The thing about most sketch comedies in the SNL mold is that entire episodes mean very little; this is, of course, why entire shows are never called ‘the best’, while individual sketches are (the other major issue being the sheer volume). Mr. Show, by being both more conscious of structuring an entire half-hour and being much smaller, is able to avoid this, and this feels much stronger overall as a show rather than as a sketch-producing machine (for more and better insight into the strengths of Mr.Show‘s individual episodes, read The AV Club’s weekly retrospective.)

Of course, the sketches themselves probably wouldn’t be nearly as funny if the actors weren’t up to snuff. As the ‘With Bob and David’ part of the title would suggest, most of the comedy is in the hands of Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, who are able to pull it off pretty much all the time. Their delivery and ability to inhabit the weird characters they always end up playing (Cross is great at playing shills and annoying salesman, while Odenkirk always seems to find a point in each episode to wear a fake mustache and old-timey clothes while using funny-sounding accents). But they also found a great supporting cast as well: Tom Kenny, Jill Talley, John Ennis, and Jay Johnson and the others recurring cast (including infrequent appearances by the likes of pre-infamy Jack Black and Sarah Silverman) are all crucial to each sketch. The cast is always willing to give their roles that extra push that the scripts demand, and are sometimes even able to get as much comedy possible out of even the weakest idea.

And the other thing that makes Mr. Show stand out is its ability to push each scene to its limit and pull hilarious new directions out of nowhere. Rather than simply rest on one funny idea, they will branch out, or completely subvert it, or just go all-out bonkers. This is also one of the things that appealed to me personally: anything that go in such silly, surreal direction on a dime gets thumbs up from me.


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