W/ Bob & David Goes Mr Show One Better

W/ Bob & DavidI finally got around to watching W/ Bob & David. I won’t pretend to be objective about the show. I am still a big fan of Mr Show. There are generally two ways that fans respond to these kinds of things: with great disappointment or great enthusiasm. I tend to come down on the enthusiasm side of these things. The gang’s back together and that’s all that really matters.

As I’ve noted before, however, Mr Show evolved over time. The first two seasons are really good. But it didn’t reach greatness until the third and fourth seasons. I believe that W/ Bob & David is every bit as good as those later episodes of Mr Show — and maybe even better. But I say that with full knowledge that they are doing something a little different here.

What really stands out in W/ Bob & David is just how subtle some of the humor is. It can get past you the first time through. Take, for example, the opening of the first episode. There is a big porta-potty on stage. We learn that after Mr Show ended, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross got into this time machine and set it for the year 2015. And now they were emerging.

They soon find out that all they’ve been doing is sitting in a box for the previous 16 years. They’ve aged just like everyone else. It turned out that their “real time travel machine” sold to them by Dr Gilly Fartsworth was in fact at “real-time travel machine.” That’s pretty subtle. I love it of course: it’s those grammatical details that get you every time!

So Bob and David go back to 1998 to have it out with Gilly Fartsworth. Now they are another 16 years older. Fartsworth explains to them the machine can, in fact, do what they want. They just had to push a red button labeled, “DE-HYPENATOR.” It’s silly stuff, but it’s hard not to think that it was written for me personally.

The rest of that show revolves around a bunch of friends at a poker game. They all admit to their new year’s resolutions. They are all absurd. John Ennis is going to Hollywood to become a director of “big budget, crowd-pleasing, award-winning films.” Jay Johnston, despite being on parole, is going to become a Circuit Court judge — start “nice and low.” But Paul Tompkins, whose doctor has told him he has to stop eating meat, has resolved to give up red meat. All the others consider this “over the top.” The episode ends with all the others having accomplished their resolutions with Tompkins having failed to stay off meat. He’s in a hospital bed, bites into a pepperoni sausage, and dies.

Most of W/ Bob & David is not really played for big laughs. There are moments, of course. I was particularly amused by David Cross as Judge Sandy “Some Nonsense” Whistleton in a parody television court show. It perfectly captured the capricious nature of the judges on these shows. And then there was a parody of the Larry the Cable Guy Prilosec commercials that was so vicious that I lost it. There is not nearly enough mockery of red neck culture, if you ask me.

But what was perhaps most remarkable was the segment on “Better Roots,” a new film that “takes on the most disgraceful chapter in American history: the showing of Roots.” The director does not like the “s-word” (slavery) and refers to slaves as “helpers.” It has scenes where the “helpers” get angry because the owner keeps making them stop for lemonade breaks and expressions of his thankfulness. What’s remarkable about this is that the shows first aired in November of last year. They must have been produced quite a lot earlier than that, because the production values are of feature film quality. So this must have pre-dated the revelation that Texas was using a school textbook that referred to slaves as “immigrants.” These guys are still on top of the cultural trends in this country.

There are only four episodes of W/ Bob & David. If you just want comedy, it seems to me that the strongest episode is the third with “Know Your Rights With Gilvin Daughtry,” about a guy who makes videos helping people stand up for their rights against the police. Unfortunately, the police he runs into are very nice. And there is another that may amuse me only because I so hate skiing. It’s about the legendary skier Waif Nickelson who revolutionizes the sport just because he hates it so much and is trying to get it over as fast as possible. (I’m laughing as I type this!) There is also a segment where Cross plays a Ronnie Dobbs style scumbag with the super power where whenever he calls someone a “cunt” she (normally, but not exclusively) shows up behind him. He is used by the FBI to find lost children and terrorists.

The main thing about W/ Bob & David is that it shows everyone involved in the show is still operating at the cutting edge of comedy. The show is not going back to the days of Mr Show, it’s moving forward. I hope they do more.

Michael Bloomberg’s Unconsidered Assumptions

Michael BloombergDavid Dayen wrote what turned out to be an amusing article over at New Republic, Michael Bloomberg’s Target Voter: Himself. It is about his grumbling that the people are tired of the extremism of the two parties and what they really want is a “moderate” like himself.

Obviously, coming from a billionaire, this is the basis of high comedy. Michael Bloomberg reminds me of Malvolio in Twelfth Night smiling and dressing like a clown. It also reminds me of a story I had read told by an ex-slave about his master doing target practice in preparation for the Civil War. Those with great power are most prone to make huge fools of themselves because they have no one to keep them in check.

Dayen described the true situation:

An anti-teachers’-union, anti-gun, pro-nanny state, pro-Wall Street, pro-stop-and-frisk, pro-inequality, pro-immigration, pro-surveillance, pro-Iraq War neoconservative is almost surgically designed to repel practically every American voter on some level.

But even if you got rid of his gun and immigration policy preferences, conservative voters would still hate him. But this is all part of a larger issue about the class of people that Michael Bloomberg represents. They really do think they are in the “sweet spot” of American politics. They see gun right absolutists — people who think they should be allowed to carry machine guns into banks — as just the other extreme of people who think that the minimum wage ought to at least keep up with inflation.

Here’s the thing: if Michael Bloomberg ran for president, I’d be surprised if he got one percent of the vote. But he would get huge media attention because the elite media share his blind spots.

This is why I’ve long been against the New Democrats. The movement was all about keeping socially liberal policy, but basically accepting conservative policy on economics. (The net result was to push the Republicans to the extreme right on economic policy and create a new “left of center” economics that is decidedly right of center.) And this is what I like most about Bernie Sanders: he’s willing to say what establishment Democrats have been unwilling to say for 25 years, “Neoliberalism doesn’t work.”

But as Dayen noted, there are a lot of people in the New York and DC areas who just love what Bloomberg has to say. To someone like William Saletan, what Bloomberg stands for is not just his opinion — it is The Truth™. It is self-evident to this crowd that the society is working just great. All it needs are a few tweaks: get people to drink less soda, get rid of unions all together, and everything will be fine!

The truth is that the Michael Bloomberg crowd doesn’t see their pro-Wall Street opinions as opinions. It is unthinkable to them that we could have a system that works differently than the one that I am more than willing to admit works for them. It’s bad enough when people just go about their lives without examining their assumptions. But when we are talking about the most powerful people in the country, we have a real problem.

Here’s the thing: if Michael Bloomberg ran for president, I’d be surprised if he got one percent of the vote. But he would get huge media attention because the elite media share his blind spots. I think Dayen was wrong in one thing he wrote. He noted Bloomberg’s “sycophantic advisers.” But the problem is so much deeper than that. Thomas Friedman isn’t paid to be Bloomberg’s yes-man. Thomas Friedman has the exact same unconsidered assumptions. And he’s not alone.

As ignorant as the people may be, they are far better at choosing a president than these jokers.

Morning Music: Political Science

Sail Away - Political ScienceMy first introduction to Randy Newman was his album Sail Away. It belonged to the sister of a friend of mine and it was a revelation. It was probably the album that caused me to start writing songs because the second or third song I ever wrote was a clear ripoff of “Old Man” off the album — still a song I greatly admire. But today we are doing offensive songs and so I’m going with “Political Science.”

In general, when Randy Newman does a song in character, he takes it to extremes. But in “Political Science,” I think he’s pretty accurate. He’s presenting a kind of John Birch Society narrative that everyone is against us and we should just bomb them into the stone age. Sadly, what used to be a fringe position is now pretty standard in the Republican Party.

I keep hearing people talking about just bombing ISIS away. There is little understanding that ISIS controls lots of people who are far bigger victims of ISIS than we are. And in the name of our cowards’ being able to rest easy at night, we should kill all these innocent people?! Of course, when it is put like this, people normally backtrack. But still we hear about “carpet bombing” and making the “sands glow.”

In “Political Science” we have a similar cowardly, resentful outlook. It starts, “No one likes us; I don’t know why; we may not be perfect; but heaven knows we try.” Oh, how often I’ve heard that sentiment! In fact, I used to believe that. In the film The Killing Fields, Spalding Gray as the US Consul gives a little speech in which he talks about the noble aspirations of our country and how we have gone against them at every step in southeast Asia. Uh, no. That’s all grammar school propaganda. The noble aspirations are for the folks back home so that they keep the killing machine well funded.

I could easily write 10,000 words going over the song line by line. It is filled with so many conservative myths, it’s like a dissertation on movement conservatism in a two minute song. It’s filled with things like all the money we give to other countries (not true). And then there is what I think of as the Real Bush Doctrine: “Let’s drop the big one and see what happens.” Let’s just give it a try and hope for the best.

But as always when he is at his best, Newman is funny as hell in “Political Science.” That’s especially true in the bridge, “We’ll save Australia…” They got surfing too!

Anniversary Post: Prohibition and the Blaine Act

John J Blaine - ProhibitionOn this day in 1933, the Blaine Act was passed — named after Senator John J Blaine. It was the law that started the process that ended in the Twenty-First Amendment later that year. And that was a repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, ratified almost 15 years earlier. We are, of course, talking about Prohibition.

Here’s something: Prohibition was basically a liberal idea. People saw a real social problem with alcohol. And remember: the way people drink now is really quite moderate compared to the way they used to drink. And then, as now, alcohol led to all kinds of violence — especially domestic violence. The idea of Prohibition was a well-intentioned liberal idea.

What’s happened over the last century is that liberals have realized the limits of creating a perfect society. Conservatives have not. At the same time, conservatives continue to think that liberals are the ones who want a nanny state. But what are liberals actually asking for? Universal healthcare; a strong safety net; a humble foreign policy. It’s the conservatives who want to treat the poor as though they are school children who need to be proctored. It’s the conservatives who think that without government intervention, women will have abortions at eight months. Basically, it is conservatives who have utopian ideas.

Liberals continue to stands for our Constitution that’s stated intent is to make a “more perfect” union, not a perfect one. Of course, it isn’t all Republicans. We are talking mostly about conservative voters who are one of the most meddlesome groups of people on the planet. The Republican establishment doesn’t care what the people do, as long as they don’t start demanding things like fair pay and equal rights.

Still, it is amazing how quickly Prohibition died. It reminds me of the line about bankruptcy: slowly then suddenly. Of course, we learned only that one lesson from Prohibition: that we shouldn’t outlaw alcohol. We’ve destroyed many millions of lives by prohibiting other substances that people enjoy putting in their bodies.