Hello, fellow clients of Entertainment 4 Every 1!
The two episodes of Mr. Show With Bob And David that we'll be looking at today are something of a study in opposites. The first, "Oh, You Men", is a bit chaotic, with a lot of shaky premises and a framing device which, though it has a monster payoff, doesn't really hold the show together. And yet, the way the material is presented is so strong, it ends up being one of the best episodes of the season. The second, "Flat-Top Tony And The Purple Canoes", is conceptually a lot stronger, with solid, ambitious sketch ideas, but they're much more dated and aren't executed with as much skill, so despite having stronger material in theory, it's not as successful an episode.
There's a lot going on theoretically in these two episodes. I want to touch on some of them, with the caveat that analyzing comedy too closely kills it deader than Ernie Kovacs. First, though we're creeping ever closer to some season 3 episodes of staggering conceptual brilliance, we're still seeing a lot of scenes that are, at heart, pretty dumb; their success lies not in the premises, which are quite silly, but in the commitment and dedication to the idea. "Young People And Their Companions" is a perfect example of this. The entire sketch is built around people using a stock TV news phrase over and over until it reaches a saturation point of absurdity, and that's what makes it funny. Meanwhile, "The Hanged Man" has a premise so convoluted — Bob Odenkirk plays a guy who once tried to strangle David Cross for stealing his newspapers, but David didn't die, and Bob's sense of guilt forces him to pretend he likes David and his stupid poetry — that it's basically nonsense. Then, having set up this crazily elaborate premise, the sketch largely ignores it and turns it into something that relies almost entirely on character for its humor. That's a Mr. Show specialty, and a hallmark of its innovative approach.
These episodes are also very reference-heavy, although the type of reference is quite different from one to the next. "Flat-Top Tony And The Purple Canoes" contains a lot of references to the pop culture of 1997 (I've always been surprised at how well "The Future Of Fashion With Nostradamus" holds up with some people, given that its central premise is a parody of the 1995 Isaac Mizrahi documentary Unzipped that very few people saw, let alone remember) and the goofs on MTV and Marilyn Manson. "Oh, You Men", on the other hand, contains a lot of moments that seem like they refer to something, but they really don't — what's referred to in literary theory as pseudo-reference — and yet, for me, these are far funnier. A perfect example is the title scene, where Karen Kilgariff, as a drunken, blowsy widow utters the name of the episode, and then takes a healthy sip of her cocktail (drinking through the straw, not from the glass, because she's a lady) as the camera lingers just a moment or two too long. It doesn't really mean anything, or even refer to anything, and yet I'd be sorely tempted to enter it into evidence as the single funniest moment in Mr. Show history. This is a real profile-in-contrast pairing of episodes, so let's get to it.
EPISODE 3: "Oh, You Men"
What Worked: As a number of you mentioned in comments, this episode has one of the most rickety framing devices of any sketch show ever (starting with Bob & David finding a banana on stage at the outset), but it ends up having a gigantic laugher of a payoff in the end. The series of baffling 'acts' represented by Entertainment 4 Every 1 — Champion the Drinker, Peanut Butter the Dressed Up Dog, and Choo Choo the Herky-Jerky Dancer among them — is a guaranteed killer every time. The "East Coast/West Coast Ventriloquist Feud" transcends its origins as a parody of the rap feuds of the late '90s through tons of great lines and crackerjack execution, and bits like "The Hanged Man" and "Lie Detector" — in which Bob is found to be telling the truth in response to questions of escalating absurdity — have silly concepts that are realized in a hilarious way. The Sid & Marty Krafft parody, "Druggachusettes", contains rewards for both those who remember the original shows and, in its purely over-the-top inappropriateness, those who have never even seen it. Overall, this episode is almost overstuffed with great material.
What Didn't: A few of the linking devices are a bit light ("Watch More TV" had been done before, and "Ol' Fisherman's Sticky Pads" doesn't have much going for it). Beyond that, there's only one sketch that flat-out didn't work for me: "The Delongpre Dannon Show", a daytime yak show parody. David loved these bits — there would be more in the show's future — but they generally fall flat because the shows they're attacking are so ridiculous that they're beyond parody. You can see stuff any day of the week on a talk show that's more absurd than what happens in the sketch. It's also overly dominated by David, who doesn't give anyone else much to do in the scene.
The Cast: This one spreads the love all around the cast: Bob & David get plenty of good scenes, especially together in "Druggachusettes", with Bob playing the defeated elder statesman and David the burnt-out rebel. There's a guest appearance from Bill Odenkirk as Fancy-Pants. Paul F. Tompkins does a swell straight man role in "Lie Detector", and he and Jay Johnston are fantastic in "Entertainment 4 Every 1" without saying a word. Jill Talley does a fine job as Candy Addams, as well. "East Coast/West Coast Ventriloquist Feud" is nicely grounded by Tom Kenny, but bringing in Sam Sarpong and Jonathan Fowler as the two irritated rappers gives it a tremendous boost. And, of course, Karen Kilgariff steals the whole episode with her three-word line.
The Crew: The centerpiece of this episode is "Druggachusettes", and everyone teams up to make it a wonderful evocation of the strangely inappropriate children's shows of Sid & Marty Krofft. Poor David has to suffer the most, wearing a ridiculous Prince Valiant wig in the scene itself and then having to get duded up like the Cros as Criminy Croffft. The rest of the scene represents some fantastic work by everyone from the writers to the costume designer to the set-builders to the props crew; it's not just the performances or the concept that makes the sketch so memorable, it's the overall look, and that's a team effort.
Timely Comics: As noted, the skillful approach taken to "East Coast/West Coast Ventriloquist Feud" keeps it from being too dated now that the LA/NY beef in the rap world is a thing of the past. There's not much more here that has timely qualities; "Druggachusettes" contains tons of absurdity and craziness even if you never watched an episode of Lidsville or H.R. Pufnstuf. 1997 ahoy: the "lost episode" of Mr. Show is on VHS. And yes, that's a young Shannyn Sossamon as the teenage girl in the "Young People And Companions" piece.
Pet Theories: David is in cargo shorts! Glory be. Just as David likes to do talk show parodies, and Bob likes to yell and curse, John Ennis — though they keep casting him as a boss, an executive, or an authority figure of some sort — seems to really enjoy playing big, boisterous goofballs. Recall his over-the-top performance as Santa in "Peanut Butter, Eggs and Dice", and then see him here as Windermere Hankin, the Mayor of Television. FAKE SPECIAL THANKS: Howard Zinn, author of A Peoples' History Of The United States. (By the way, Ari Emanuel, who appears in every episode's Special Thanks, was not only Bob & David's agent, but is the brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.)
Deep Thoughts: Much is made — by me, anyway — of the way Mr. Show managed to incorporate solid thematic structures into what would ordinarily be just a collection of sketches. That's mildly present here, in the overall TV theme, but the framing device, for all its killer payoff, is light as air, and the structure isn't solid in any way. You really do have a collection of more or less random scenes here. But it ends up being one of the best episodes of the season, and that's a tribute to how strong a group of writers and performers Bob & David had put together: even when Mr. Show wasn't particularly Mr. Show-like, it could still knock you on your ass.
- "The people of the future will watch this lost episode and remember a time when people named Bob and David wore crazy outfits and brought us all to the verge of laughter."
- "The West Coast is the better of the two coasts. We don't like the East Coast."
- "I'm gonna fuck you like a bitch, Dingle!"
- Professor Murder's reaction to the puppets is just amazing. The way he actually interacts with them, both acknowledging and ignoring the absurdity of the whole situation, is perfect.
- "All we've ever wanted to do is entertain the nice people!"
- "I have more time to play with my kids."
- "SHUT UP HONEY I HAVE TO LIVE WITH THIS NOW YOU HAVE TO SUPPORT ME!"
- There's a lot of nice little moments in "The Hanged Man", like the awkward pauses between David and Jill when Bob's out of the room, or the goofy musical cues at the end.
- "It was for charity!"
- "Eatin' an orange, it was like takin' a trip through a citrus mountain."
EPISODE 4: "Flat-Top Tony And The Purple Canoes"
What Worked: A favorite of many viewers, "Flat-Top Tony And The Purple Canoes" was the first episode of season 3 I thought didn't really hold together well. But that's not to say it didn't have a lot of great moments: the ultra-sexist "Mr. Show Morning Show" opener was hilarious right up to David's bizarre striptease; "Young People And Their Companions" and "Nooz 6 Blooperz" were both successful, which I'll discuss further below; and "Indomitable Spirit" is one of my all-time favorite Mr. Show scenes.
What Didn't: Too much of this episode simply didn't gel for me. The "Got A Good Thing Going" parody of Beatles movie shenanigans didn't really go anywhere and was much too long; the parodies of Marilyn Manson and Oasis had their moments but seem dated now; and "Future Of Fashion With Nostradamus", while it had a strong approach and some great character moments, seemed to drag a bit and had too low a time-to-punchline ratio to be fully successful. None of these sketches were enough to sink the episode, but there were enough of them that it keeps it out of the list of great episodes for me.
The Cast: It's nice to see Sarah Silverman back, selling her roles as a fun-loving MTV veejay and the hapless Fran from Indomitable Spirit. Both "Future Of Fashion With Nostradamus" and "Indomitable Spirit" are acting showcases for Bob & David; in the former, the acting almost gets in the way of the comedy. The latter is interesting, too, in that we get to see David in the frustrated yelling-guy role that Bob usually occupies — and he does a fine job of it, in fact.
The Crew: I can't really fault the crew for the sketches that don't work, since they all look just fine. The "Smoosh", "Norma Jean Monster", and "Future Of Fashion With Nostradamus" bits all succeed in conjuring up just the right mise-en-scene; I'd just argue that it's a good effort to little effect. Loved the Lite-FM rewrite of the theme song at the beginning, though.
Timely Comics: Good as it looked, I can't imagine who thought a Beatles parody in 1997 was a fresh idea. Likewise, the idea of mocking Oasis and Marilyn Manson was getting old six months after they first appeared on the scene, and portraying MM as a secretly hokey fun-loving average guy is a bit of an obvious joke. (Mr. Show would bring the character back in its final episode, in a more successful sketch based on the fact that the whole Marilyn Manson persona was a calculated fraud from the beginning.)
Pet Theories: David's opening-scene outfit: cargo shorts. I don't know what I'm talking about, obviously. A question for the commenters: when you were in high school, did they still have Indomitable Spirit-style inspirational acts? They definitely did when I was a kid — at the risk of exposing how incredibly ancient I am, the one that did a big pep rally/anti-drug/stay-in-school concert at Glendale High featured a dude who was constantly wearing a Quiet Riot-style metal mask. But I have no idea if that sort of thing still goes on, so maybe it's a dated element as well. You tell me! FAKE SPECIAL THANKS: Roberta Sanchez again! Damn you to hell, Roberta Sanchez.
Deep Thoughts: Contrary to my usual preference in Mr. Showistry, "Flat-Top Tony And The Purple Canoes", I thought, succeeded best when it focused on cleanly executed low-concept ideas like "Young People And Companions" and fell flat on some of the more high-concept, ambitious wretches like "Future Of Fashion With Nostradamus". ("Indomitable Spirit" is an exception; I thought it was both conceptually brilliant — I love a gag where someone is trying to explain a relatively simple concept and someone else stubbornly refuses to get it, a la some of the best Groucho/Chico scenes — and very funny.) Add to that the dated elements, and you have an episode I really enjoyed, but can't consider in a class with the three that preceded it.
- "And we're going to have a visit from Dr. Goodsex, who's going to come out here and show you how to make your hubby climax faster so he can get on with his busy day."
- "If winner is Chinese, a bill for the bullet will be sent to the victim's family."
- "Red flag!"
- "I've known several companions in all my years, and I believe the problem not to be with them, but with the young people of today."
- Nice little bit in "Young People And Companions": How they mimicked the built-in delay from remote cameras.
- Boy, we dodged a bullet with the ol' Great New York Earthquake of 2003, didn't we?
- "Now, they're a little different from you and me, but let's remember: that doesn't make them freaks. It just means you have to try a little harder not to let them make you uncomfortable."
- "I'm Fran! And I'm a woman!" That line, with the nonplussed expression on her face afterwards and the half-hearted clapping, just tears me apart.
- "So that was you!"
- "No! No! That is not it! Go sit down. Don't help anymore."