Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ new Netflix series With Bob And David has us thinking about our favorite episodes of our favorite sketch shows.
That Mitchell And Webb Look (series three, episode four; originally aired 7/2/2009)
Homeopathy, though seemingly unrelated to sketch comedy, is in fact a subject ripe for mockery, as made clear by British comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb. Because it’s not frequently known outside the broad definitions of “alternative medicine,” bear with me for a brief explanation: Homeopathy is the idea that using a tiny bit of the thing that ails you, heavily diluted, will make you better. What’s less well known is just how diluted homeopathic remedies are: in some cases as much as 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. But that’s fine, because the “memory of water” allows the hair of the dog to cure what ails you. In his book Bad Science, doctor and ersatz comedian Ben Goldacre explains:
How does a water molecule know to forget every other molecule it’s seen before? How does it know to treat my bruise with its memory of arnica, rather than its memory of Isaac Asimov’s feces? I wrote this in a newspaper once, and a homeopath complained to the Press Complaints Commission. It’s not about the dilution, he said; it’s the succussion. You have to bang the flask of water briskly ten times on a leather and horsehair surface, and that’s what makes the water remember a molecule. Because I did not mention this, he explained, I had deliberately made homeopaths sound stupid.
This is the comedic thread that Mitchell and Webb pick up in a sketch from That Mitchell And Webb Look, which aired in the U.K. from 2006 to 2010. Webb plays a homeopathic emergency room doctor, treating a victim of a car crash, while Mitchell fulfills the role of the New Age guru, attempting to save a life by drawing a bit more lifeline on with a ballpoint pen. It’s all overblown mockery until they meet up at the pub after a rough day of losing patients. Mitchell—who’s still in character as the New Ager, but is playing the straight man now, kind of—tries to comfort a glum Webb, pointing out that when patients need him, he’s there with “a bottle of basically just water in one hand, a huge invoice in the other.” This isn’t the first time in this episode that Mitchell and Webb take the piss out of believers, though later on it involves Christianity and watermelon.
This episode contains a few other gems as well: It begins with a bang-up parody of Kitchen Nightmares, with Webb in the role of the rage-filled chef and Mitchell as the bumbling wannabe who can’t even cook salmon. (“It’s just local ingredients, simply cooked,” says Webb’s chef. “By you!” shouts Mitchell. “King Lear is just English words put in order!”) There’s a running gag about a dying man trying to persuade his friend to give him just one more dying wish; and there’s a short bit about how Brits inexplicably sign all correspondence with a varying number of “X”s. Both Mitchell and Webb possess the ability to transform characters with only small makeup or costume changes, so the beginning of each sketch is typically a delightful surprise as the nuances unravel into full-blown comedy. And they can take a strange but banal topic—pissing in the shower—and turn it into a weirdly hilarious philosophical musing on whether pissing in the shower makes you feel like a superhero. And that’s really at the heart of the best Mitchell and Webb sketches: They’re just saying what we’re all thinking.
Availability: Many episodes of That Mitchell And Webb Look, including this one, are available on Hulu.