I 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.