Hello, fellow graduates of Monk Academy!
A funny thing happened on my way to reviewing these two episodes of Mr. Show With Bob And David: I completely forgot what one of them was about. As I noted some time ago, I've gotten in the habit of watching each episode twice (once before I write the recap to refresh my memory, and once afterwards for fact-checking purposes and for any stray observations I might have missed), but as a rule, it's not really that necessary: in addition to seeing them when they first aired, I've watched pretty much every single episode at least half a dozen times, first on my homemade VHS copies (shush, don't tell Interpol) and then later on DVD.
Not so with "It's Insane, This Guy's Taint". I remembered the title sketch, of course, and I also recalled that the hilarious "Car Wash Change Thief Action Squad" bit was in this one as well, but everything else was a mystery. The DVD box was no help: "For Those Who Cannot Breathe"? "Intervention"? "Be Kind, Rewind"? What the…? This sounded more like a litany of failed indie movies from the mid-2000s than a list of Mr. Show sketches. I didn't remember any of them, and had no idea why.
Luckily, I was able to call up an old friend who's known me since that long-ago era known as the Eighties, and who frequently serves as my proxy memory when my own, ravaged by drugs, alcohol, age, and indifference, fails to come through. She reminded me that I had forgotten to tape the episode when it first aired, and that my original DVD (before I replaced it with a new box set with that sweet, sweet A.V. Club cheddar) had a scratch at the beginning of disc 2 that prevented me from watching it. Which means that I hadn't actually seen this one in twelve years! I felt like I was seeing TV like our primitive ancestors watched it, but I survived, and now I'm here to tell you the tale, which I think you'll all agree is the most boring thing to ever occupy three paragraphs.
Anyway, we're coming to the end of the line with our Mr. Show TV Club Classic recaps; more than halfway home now, and luckily with a pretty solid pair of episodes. Only two more installments to go, so if you've got any special requests — and no, I'm not going to go back and rewrite these to make them funnier, so you eight thousand nitpickers can shut up about that — now's the time to make them; I'm feeling generous and will be pleased to oblige in these last few weeks we have. In the meantime, here's episodes 5 and 6 for your quoting pleasure.
EPISODE 5: "It's Perfectly Understandishable"
What Worked: With most of the skits on Mr. Show, I was sold on them (or down on them) from the first time I ever watched them; it was rare that I'd change my mind from liking a sketch to disliking, or vice versa, even with repeated viewings. "Monk Academy", where David Cross plays a ne'er-do-well visiting his buddy at a Buddhist monastery in Tibet, was an exception. I didn't really care for it at first; it seemed overlong and scrambled, and its central parody was oversold. Watching it the last few times, though, I've really grown to love it: it's one of Mr. Show's stupidest ideas, but the total commitment really sells it, along with how deeply the parody of '80s lovable-loser comedy runs, and the moments of sheer absurdity along the way. "Those Amazing Actors", which runs on the conceit that performers are generally an evolutionary rung below trained seals, is pretty great, and amongst its many strengths is getting to see Jay Johnston 'corrected' for his acting in a romantic scene by getting peanut butter smeared all over his face.
What Didn't: "Blind Girl", where the guys woo a blind woman by describing things to her, has a clever idea, but the execution is a bit of a mess, and it's not one of Bob Odenkirk's best acting moments. Likewise, "Emergency Psychic Hotline" seems like a gag that's been done a million times before; the funniest bits of it are David's loverman outfit and Jill Talley's hypnotically awful earrings — in other words, stuff that has nothing to do with the sketch. Even David's Don King neologisms fell flat for me.
The Cast: Karen Kilgariff does a decent job in "Blind Girl", but again, it seems to me that as in some other sketches I've found weak (like "Rudy Will Await Your Foundation"), one of the big flaws is that the cast isn't entirely into it. You can usually tell when someone has a problem with a script, because this is a show that runs on great comic performances. That said, there's some great stuff in this episode: Some of y'all have been down on John Ennis this season, but I think he's fantastic as Lane Wellesby, Trainer To "The" Stars, incessantly deploying his whip. Bob completely redeems himself in "Monk Academy" (and David does a terrific job as well), and it's also significantly bolstered by the presence of relatively unfamiliar faces, including Jerry Messing as the rich fat snobby kid William Van Landingham III and the delightful return of Sam Sarpong as Professor Murder. Dr. Baloney's career didn't really take off after this, though.
The Crew: I know I've been down on the crew a lot this season, but this is the episode when the Dayton/Faris combination really seems to come together for me. Which, really, is ridiculous, because it's actually the second episode that was filmed in season 4. Having established that I have zero credibility as a critic, I will go on to say that I think this episode looks great, and "Monk Academy" in particular really captures the breezy visual quality of the era it's spoofing, which makes the darker, creepier moments all the more effective. Also, goofy shot at the beginning of the episode: right over the audience, so the cameraman could look down the blouses of a row full of young women. For the first time ever, watching Mr. Show is like being at a baseball game.
Timely Comics: No self-respecting hasher, not even a dipshit like Derek, would have been enthusiastic about Halen in 1998. That was the Gary Cherone era, for Christ's sake.
Pet Theories: Bob and David are in a sort of psychedelic variant of Season 1 attire: Bob's tie is one of those shiny polyester numbers you can only find at thrift stores, and David is in the bizarro checker-pattern shorts he wore once before. I have no clue as to why I continue to find this fascinating. Man, blind people really take it on the chin this season, don't they? Even fake blind people. Blindness, of course, is the funniest category of sensory impairment, followed by muteness, inability to feel, and an impaired sense of taste. Deafness is not funny, but scary. FAKE SPECIAL THANKS: Dokken, as in "rockin' like", and Cypress Hill, as in "smokin' gargantuan amounts of weed like".
Deep Thoughts: The #1 candidate for moment I can't watch without cracking up is the endless staredown between Bob and Jerry Messing. I seem to recall something about this in the commentary, so remind me, someone, but they must have had to do about a hundred takes of that scene. This is a pretty solid episode, one which I ended up liking a lot more than I remembered. I wonder if I'd have judged it any differently had I watched it in the original order rather than the DVD sequence; that would have put it where "Show Me Your Weenis!" is now, and good as "It's Perfectly Understandishable" is, it can't compete with that one.
- "There's a reason for the phrase 'as dumb as an actor'."
- I would rather watch Vince Vaughn herding sheep than watch any of the movies he has made in the last five years.
- "D.H. Lawrence? Isn't that a little racy?" "NO!"
- I don't think that was really D.H. Lawrence. Then again, maybe it's from The Rainbow.
- "Yo, Dalai G! What up, nigga?"
- "Derek, I think you're funny, but the monks have been beat down for, like, five hundred years."
- I love how even the actual monks have shitty-looking bald wigs.
- One thing I love about the "Monk Academy" sketch is that when it turns, it just turns on a dime. It's the crazy abruptness of the change (er, and how Derek starts murdering people) that makes it so absurdly fun.
- "Causin' hocus-pocus like my man Kurt Vonnegut"
- "Damn! The science is too tight!"
EPISODE 6: "It's Insane, This Guy's Taint"
What Worked: As noted in that interminable anecdote above, I actually hadn't seen this one since it first aired, so it was almost like watching a brand-new episode for me. One thing I remembered, though, is that the title track was (and is) one of the weirdest, creepiest things Mr. Show had ever done, and also one of the funniest. This show didn't really specialize in discomfort humor, and that's not even really what "Taint" is — it's half Boogie Nights parody and half surrealist sick joke. But there are moments of it that scan to me almost like they were anticipating the awkward-glance style of humor that would become popular a few years later. "Car Wash Change Thief Action Squad", too, is as great as I remember, a completely ridiculous concept that the cast throws itself into wholeheartedly with fantastic results. "Intervention" isn't the most original concept, and it has its rough patches, but there are little bits of it (starting with John's ridiculous song) that work really well, and the clever idea of keeping us off balance about who the intervention is really for is nicely executed. Its constant twists and terms redeem what could otherwise have been a weak sketch. And while it's pretty dated now (it's based on some high-profile incidents in the 1990s involving Louis Farrakhan), "Be Kind, Rewind", where a Black Muslim minister attempts to clarify a number of indefensible statements, is buoyed by Jerry Minor's terrific performance and the way it turns in a Batman episode halfway through.
What Didn't: The opening, with the dead crew member segueing into the bit where Jay plays a shady-seeming guy who keeps selling Bob and David perfectly legal things, didn't really do much for me. The joke became obvious pretty early on, and it was derivative of (and inferior to) a classic Python bit about a criminal gang that never breaks the law. And while I stuck them in What Worked, above, both "Intervention" and "Taint" are pretty padded; they're still great sketches, but the Mr. Show of seasons 1-3 would have delivered them a lot leaner.
The Cast: Man, for some reason, it's really disconcerting to see Jay with long hair. I'm so used to seeing him play a cop, I immediately think he's a narc in a really bad disguise. Jill gets some good lines in "Intervention"; she's always lots of fun when she's acting really nasty. John's great as an angry cokehead there, too. I mentioned Jerry Minor above, who turns in a great role as the Nation of Islam minister, but probably the best performance of the episode is Bob's off-kilter John Walsh impersonation in "Car Wash Change Thief Action Squad".
The Crew: The cheap special effects are actually going backwards in quality. At least in season 2 David got to wear a sturdy, strap-on, canvas beer belly; the one he wears in "Intervention" makes it look like he has a miniature beanbag stuffed up the side of his shirt. Nice cold sore on Bob in "Taint", though, a sketch which really nails the degraded '70s porn/American Apparel visuals of its source material.
Timely Comics: There used to be these things called videotapes, see, and you watched movies on them. When you were done, all the tape was at one end, and if you gave the tape to someone else without 'rewinding' it, it was a big pain in the ass, because they would…you know what? Skip it.
Pet Theories: In the intro, it's a suit with a skinny tie on Bob and David in colored shorts for the first time. It's New Wave Bob and David! I don't often give this show much credit for being good at physical humor, since it's not really their wheelhouse, but they've done it quite well when they've needed to, and the way Bob, Jill and John move in lockstep during "Car Wash Change Thief Action Squad" is a thing of beauty. FAKE SPECIAL THANKS: Matador Records, then as now your home for the good stuff in indie rock. (This Pet Theories segment brought to you by Gerard Cosloy.)
Deep Thoughts: Not quite as strong as its predecessor (I love how reviewing this show in batches of two for TV Club has completely skewed my ability to think of any episode as standing alone), but still plenty of great material, and considering what's to come, a good episode to hang on to.
- "You guys like potatoes? Because I know this lady — she's sitting at this table — who's got a line on some primo stash, from Idaho."
- "But I wrote a song!"
- The funniest part of "Intervention" is watching David laboriously eat a mini-pretzel.
- "Actually, John, we're not here to plan a high-society jewel heist. We're here to plan an intervention."
- "There's kerosene underneath my shoes, and matches in my sock!"
- "Together, we'll stop still more car wash workers, before they stop you! From…having your change. That you left there."
- "Chuck attempted to portray Julio's recent crime, but was foiled by Julio's even more recent crime."
- "Now firstly, I stated that Korean shop owners are vampires. This generous appraisal has been intricately, surgically misrepresented as an insult."
- "Where are you goin' with this one?"
- "You know, people everywhere are masturbating on my bread and butter, and it tastes delicious."