Hello, fellow last Indians!
We're closing out season 3 of Mr. Show With Bob And David, with the last two episodes of the 1997 season. This week, as last week, we have one that's a bit weaker and one that's a real killer, and I look forward to hearing from you why I'm wrong about which is which.
Actually, I'm not quite sure that's going to happen this time; while some of you may like "A White Man Set Them Free" more than I did, there seems to be a near consensus that the last episode of the season, "The Return Of The Curse Of The Creature's Ghost", is a real mind-blower, one of the best of the entire series run. I can never predict what y'all are going to think of any given sketch — I mean, some of you even loved "Ex-Siamese Twins", a skit that had a novelty pair of four-legged pants in it. You know who tells jokes involving novelty pairs of four-legged pants? Blueberry-Head, that's who tells jokes involving novelty pairs of four-legged pants. And yet…and yet…I sense joy in our futures. I sense a coming together, a celebration, a global unification like the Millennium celebration, except with less fear that we're going to wake up the next day and all our bank accounts will have been wiped clean by the Y2K bug. Why? I'll tell you why: "Pre-Taped Call-In Show".
Yes, "The Return Of The Curse Of The Creature's Ghost" includes, along with its other virtues which are many, the very finest scenes in Mr. Show history, and perhaps one of the greatest comedy scenes of all time, a stone classic that can stand next to the most timeless bits of 20th century comedy. It's got it all: funny lines, great reactions, a brilliant concept perfectly executed, an astonishing build, and one of the very best comedic performances I've ever seen. It's almost breathtaking, one of those rare bits of art that leaves you gasping, right on the edge of uncertainty of what you've seen. It's crammed with genius, it's technically fantastic, and it's got a totally watertight execution that leaves it crackling with that particular Mr. Show quality we've discussed here so many times; and best of all, for all its undeniable brilliance, it's actually an incredibly stupid idea, because why would you have a pre-taped call-in show? I wanted to talk a bit about it here, because seriously, I could go on for hours about why it's so brilliant, and I didn't want to take up the whole recap with it. I'm prepared for the fact that some of you will say you hate it. Some of you would spit out manna from heaven. And I'm not saying you are wrong, nor am I saying that you have to like it, nor am I even saying that if you don't like it, you're a tasteless, vacuous moron whose time would be better spent lying lifeless in a drainage culvert in rural Montana. I'm not saying any of those things. I'm just saying that if you don't like "Pre-Taped Call-In Show", I don't think we can ever get married.
Now, on with the rest of it.
EPISODE 9: "A White Man Set Them Free"
What Worked: Overall, "A White Man Set Them Free" is a strong episode — not as good as its predecessor, and certainly not as good as its successor, but quite strong just the same. The intro, with "Viewer Hate Mail" and the hilarious white-privilege ditties of "The Mr. Show Cracker Barrel", is top-notch, and David Cross delivers a winning performance as Sharwood Lish, the misunderstood author of sarcastic letters. (I always wondered if his name and appearance were supposed to be a shot at notoriously prickly writer/editor Gordon Lish, who had a habit of writing crank letters to magazines and newspapers.) "Marriage-Con & Boat Show" has some good moments, especially David as a hysterical imam, and while it's not that memorable, it works fine as a funny link; "Night Talk With The Senate Subcommittee", featuring the return of Sen. Howell Tankerbell, always strikes me as charming. "Biosphere" is simply amazing, a completely weird bit (starring David as an awkward scientist who can't get anywhere with women) that starts out as strong character comedy and then takes an extremely bizarre and funny turn. And "The Last Indian" works well enough as satire, but also succeeds as a fun bit of showbiz parody.
What Didn't: "Corporate Ice Cream", a poke at Ben & Jerry's, is pretty obvious and doesn't carry its concept very far, but at least it's short. I want to like the "Les Balloons Sportif" bit more than I do — the image of Bob & David decked out in Spandex cavorting around like gay acrobats is inherently funny — but it seems like an abrupt end to the show, and the Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soliel have been parodied so many times, it's lost what edge it once had. Those are both forgivable, though, since they're short and inconsequential; the real stinker here is "Dying Asshole In Vietnam", a one-joke concept sketch (about a pair of soldiers in the jungle that get bogged down in petty bitching) that goes nowhere and lasts far too long. Like the few big missteps we've seen in Mr. Show, it doesn't really fit the tone of the show; it seems to have wandered in from a different sensibility.
The Cast: Most of the really good performances in this episode belong to David. I've mentioned how good he is in "Sharwood Lish" and "Marriage-Con and Boat Show" (which also features some fine work by Jill Talley), but he's also amazing — a disarming combination of creepy and pitiful — in "Biosphere". (Jill and Brett Paesel are also excellent there.) Bob Odenkirk's biggest scenes are in weaker sketches like "Corporate Ice Cream" and "Dying Asshole In Vietnam", but he does shine in the opening and it's great to see Howell Tankerbell back. It's also always fun to see him playing guitar. Special bonus: great cameo appearance in "Biosphere" by Laura Kightlinger!
The Crew: This was, I thought, a particularly good-looking episode; even "Dying Asshole", which is one of the show's weakest episodes ever, looked good for a small budget. The animation in "Biosphere" was a nice touch, and helped push the sketch over the edge in terms of sheer craziness (and what is going on with David's hair?); and the "Last Indian" stuff was particularly well-conceived and executed.
Timely Comics: It obviously shouldn't have seemed so at the time (I don't remember even thinking about it when the show first aired, especially since it was only a few years after Platoon), but it seems a bit odd now to see a sketch set in Vietnam at all. The biosphere is a pretty dated reference by now as well — I think the actual Biosphere project ended in 1994, amidst some controversy — but it doesn't hurt the sketch at all. 1997 ahoy: look how young Jon Stewart is!
Pet Theories: Opening scene outfits: Bob in a suit with no tie, David in cargo shorts and what I think is a band t-shirt, but I can't quite tell who it is — maybe Superchunk? An observation about the "Mr. Show Cracker Barrel" sketch: I'd always wondered if they meant this bit, full as it is of ironic pokes at racism, to be a shot at the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain. Does anyone remember if this is mentioned in the audio commentary or the What Happened? book? The sketch would have been made after they were slammed with lawsuits for discrimination against gays (that was 1990 or 1991), but before they were hit with accusations of discrimination against black customers in the 2000s. FAKE SPECIAL THANKS: documentary filmmaker and director of Sherman's March Ross McElwee.
Deep Thoughts: I think I've graded this one pretty fairly — it's a generally strong episode slowed down by one bad sketch in the middle. But I wonder if I'd have thought more highly of it if it didn't appear in between a very good episode and one of the best episodes of the series. That's the problem with letter grades: they're a codification of judgments that are frangible, contingent, and inchoate. Ah well.
- In the "Viewer Hate Mail" opener, Bob's "FUCK!" — complete with hand gesture that makes David flinch like he's going to get hit — is a classic bit of Angry Bob.
- "And I hope you never die in a horrible car wreck, either!"
- "This woman will find a mate, and this woman will be dead by sundown, if you follow the rules!"
- "How about the women don't wear any pants?"
- "This is not a toy."
- "The birds have other birds/and the bees have other bees/but I can't find another one of me"
- "We're not waiting for a man to die. We're watching a man live."
- "There was something about snakes. The Indians danced. I seem to recall a man in a hat. I think that movie was called Billy Jack."
- "Well, Michael, it occurs to me that, uh, your jacket leads me to believe that, uh, somewhere in this great country of ours, there's an El Camino with its seat cover missing."
- Man, these guys really hated Carrot Top. "College favorite!" But then, all decent, right-thinking people hate Carrot Top.
EPISODE 10: "The Return Of The Curse Of The Creature's Ghost"
What Worked: Everything. This one, like the best Mr. Show episodes, simply goes from strength to strength; it's crammed with one amazing and well-executed sketch after another. It starts out (and ends with) "Moe Phelps", a great Bob character who stars in two segments that are funny enough on their own, but also serve as a sly parody of the widely held notion that acting isn't really a legitimate way of making a living. "Gus Kryzinski, Night Janitor", is a nice little spoof of the old joke of the menial employee whose wacky antics entertain those around him (the gag being that he works at night, alone, when no one can see him), and "Blowjob", where David's idealistic young lawyer learns that the entire world works on an escalating scale of fellatio, is another one of those simple concepts that takes one idea and turns it, through sheer escalation, into a sketch that absolutely destroys. "Titannica", where a metal band makes an unwise commitment to visit their biggest fan in the hospital, is such a legendary bit I can't even think of anything more to say about it — it's almost perfect — and it leads into "Pre-Taped Call-In Show", which we've already discussed as a thing of utter beauty. The title sketch is a nice, Pythonesque bit of play on ambiguous language, and "Chip On The Shoulder Club" and "A Trip Up My Mother's Ass" is a great reversal on the chestnut of a dedicated teacher who gets through to his stubborn, misbehaving class through pure dedication. And it ends with the best Shakespeare adaptation ever!
What Didn't: Well, at the risk of making this entry too short (as if), nothing.
The Cast: Nobody's left out of this one except Jill, who was off having a baby; the Moe Phelps bit alone gives everybody the chance to stomp around and holler on stage. Bob, of course, is phenomenal as Moe Phelps — it might be my favorite of his characters — and David has some great frustrated reactions off of him. David's also good as the sad-sack janitor Gus, whose antics don't even seem to entertain himself. Jay Johnston has some good moments in both "Creature's Ghost" and "Chip On The Shoulder Club", and Sarah Silverman is well used in the latter, too. There's not a bad performance in "Blowjob" or "Titannica" (Brian Posehn is especially good there), and of course, David's constantly upping the ante of frustration in "Pre-Taped Call-In Show" is a big part of why it's so great.
The Crew: Whoever's responsible for puppeteering David's dried-turds body and limbs in "Titannica" should get a medal or be locked up, or possibly both. "Gus Kryzinski" is nicely subdued off-set filming, and the retro look of "Creature's Ghost" is well-done. And, to return as I always do to "Pre-Taped Call-In Show", the hair, makeup and costumes — slowly showing how David has completely failed apart in reverse — are a vital part of selling the joke, and the sketch wouldn't have worked without them.
Timely Comics: Everything holds up pretty well here; the phenomenon being parodied in "Titannica", where heavy metal bands would get blamed for the self-destructive behavior of their brain-damaged fans, was largely confined to the '80s, but enough people know about it that the sketch still works. And, of course, the world is still controlled by a series of blowjobs.
Pet Theories: Bob and David's opening outfits this week are…you know what? Who cares? Go watch "Pre-Taped Call-In Show". Go ahead, do it right now. I'll wait. Here it is: go nuts. FAKE SPECIAL THANKS: Dr. Pangloss, the hopelessly optimistic tutor in Voltaire's Candide.
Deep Thoughts: It's hard to know how far in advance sketches are written, planned and scheduled for air; sometimes, pretty minor stuff like the availability of sets or cast members decide when a particular bit will make it on the air. So I don't want to speculate that Bob and David planned in advance to end the third season with such a spectacular episode. But the important thing is, it seems like they did, and really, that's all that matters.
- "All acting is is jumping up and down and screaming a lot."
- "He does what? At night?"
- Paul F. Tompkins should use that shot of himself as "The Button Man" as his publicity still.
- "Well, it should be a very good blowjob, then."
- "We can't have him on the road with us! He looks like a wet cigar!"
- "It's just…let's…let's think before we…" Man. The way David looks at the phone with this sort of hesitant dread, it's just…"Pre-Taped Call-In Show", I love you!
- "It's not the creature we have to worry about, ma'am. It's the creature's ghost."
- "Well, yeah, it is a little gay."
- "Your majesty, I'm a clown or something! I got makeup on my face 'cause my mommy and daddy didn't give me enough attention!"
- Thanks for sticking around, gang, and we'll see you next week for the start of season 4 — the *sob* last season of Mr. Show With Bob And David.