It’s getting more difficult to reserve skepticism about beloved properties springing back to life on Netflix. The fourth season of Arrested Development cast a long shadow of doubt for some, and everywhere you look, there’s the specter of the forthcoming Fuller House. But Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp extended (and in some ways elevated) the legacy of Camp Firewood, and the streaming service’s newest effort in the field of follow-ups, reunions, and pseudo-sequels, With Bob And David, should similarly delight fans of Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, and their previous sketch series, Mr. Show With Bob And David. Perhaps the key here is making an early joke about the stars’ advancing age—as First Day Of Camp did with its carbon-copy cold open, and With Bob And David does when Odenkirk and Cross emerge from their very own Time Caplet—before moving on to stronger, funnier material.
The title With Bob And David was chosen in order to send a signal: This is a new series, tonally consistent with but separate from Mr. Show. But comparisons between the two are inevitable—not that With Bob And David suffers from them in any way. In the space of four half-hour(ish) episodes, Odenkirk and Cross’ Netflix effort meets (and sometimes exceeds) the expectations set by their HBO cult classic, rediscovering and revitalizing its tone and wit, but not its overarching fussiness. These episodes don’t hurry themselves along: A riff on The Most Dangerous Game gets all the beats it needs to level the playing field between adventurer Cross and accountant Odenkirk; an interrogation scene begins like a tweaked good cop/bad cop scenario, before the suspect gets sucked into a game of passive-aggressive telephone between investigators. Everyone’s a little more willing to bend the reality of a sketch, too: Paying for a pizza in the first episode, Cross nonchalantly ends the transaction with, “Here, this is fake—you can keep all of it.” The less time spent representing an authentic food-delivery experience, the more time he and his castmates get to rib Paul F. Tompkins about a purportedly ludicrous New Year’s resolution. All four episodes are enlivened by little bits of embroidery like this, and if they happen to link two sketches together, that’s just gravy. With Bob And David never strains to fit its puzzle pieces in place.
Like First Day Of Camp, Odenkirk and Cross’ new venture benefits from the abundance of returning talent, both onscreen and in the writers’ room. (Even Mary Lynn Rajskub, who parted ways with Mr. Show after parting romantic ways with Cross, makes it back for a sketch.) With so many familiar faces, With Bob And David doesn’t feel the need to start from scratch—but its casting is more than an exercise in comedy-nerd nostalgia. There’s a trust between performers on display, which leads to a show with a more generous spotlight. Tompkins and Jill Talley show up on With Bob And David before either Bob or David; folks who weren’t around the first time—including Keegan-Michael Key, Paget Brewster, and Jon Barinholtz—stake out their own scene-stealing moments. Some sketches land primarily because of the strong acting within them. Vince Gilligan picked Odenkirk as his Saul Goodman because of Odenkirk’s performances on Mr. Show, and the increased levels of conviction and commitment he brings back from Albuquerque really sell some of With Bob And David’s goofiest moments.
There are people Odenkirk and Cross didn’t get to work with before, but there’s also fresh conceptual territory for them to plow. Whole genres of film and television have cropped up since Mr. Show left the air, homemade vlogs and aggressive pharmaceutical ads whose text-littered visuals and mixed messages look great through the With Bob And David filter. The team’s uncommonly sharp bullshit detector picks up strong signals from self-styled “digital prophet” David Shing and evangelical literary sensation Colton Burpo, and they aim for targets related to the war on terror with characteristic fearlessness. For the superfans, there are threads picked up from older sketches: A trailer for a film that adapts flimsier source material than “Coupon: The Movie,” or a TV-news report that harkens back to “The Fad 3.” With Bob And David doesn’t mount a production of the legendarily elusive “Rooms: The Musical”—but it comes close.
Beyond reference points and sermons for the converted, With Bob And David is a hilarious triumph on its own merits. The uninitiated could begin with the new series and work backward to Mr. Show without getting lost; the faithful will be surprised at how many new tricks (and how few, if any, duds) are contained within the show’s two-plus hours. The quality of the content and the deep bench of talent that brought it to life are a testament to the rare alchemy of Odenkirk and Cross’ collaboration. For all the voices synthesized within With Bob And David, they’re still the faces of the show and the names in the title, and their reunion has set the bar very, very high for whenever those Gilmore Girls come back around.