That seems to have been HBO's mindset with Mr. Show. Sure, it's been six years since these episodes first made the rounds on premium cable, but ours are dark days...a time of relentless reruns of Mad TV and an inevitably awful season of Saturday Night Live on the horizon. The world needs Mr. Show, a comedic savior to lead us away from these stunted little creatures and towards a better way of life. HBO Video has released the last pair of its shiny five-inch documents proving that there was a time in the mid-to-late '90s when sketch comedy was allowed to be funny. More than likely, anyone reading this is already a Mr. Show convert and wouldn't benefit from my amateurish sermon. To you, I give a hearty "Taradaloo!" and suggest that you skip forward a bit. For the unfamiliar, Mr. Show is a bountiful treat from which I invite you to partake.
The quick, painless overview -- Mr. Show is a sketch comedy series that ran late night on HBO for four seasons. Although each season was short -- the entire run of the series consists of just thirty episodes -- that just means more time was lavished upon each episode, squeezing the most out of every possible moment. There's very little filler, and only a few sketches really seem to flounder. It doesn't rely on recurring characters, and although the name "GloboChem" is tossed out and white bread R&B duo Three Times One Minus One put in an appearance, Mr. Show is more interested in trudging forward than rehashing previous sketches. Its razor-sharp wit and complete disinterest in trotting down the conventional path of SNL's ilk set it apart from most comedy series, and since there's very little topical humor tossed into the mix, the show has aged remarkably well. Having done this for a few years, the writers had really nailed down the process, and its fourth season might be the strongest of the series. The episodes collected on the first disc are a little stronger than those that follow, but there are three bits in particular that made me laugh harder than anything I've seen in months, and this is from someone who just caught a preview of "Hardcore Midget Wrestling" on HDNet this weekend. One of my favorite sketches is in the season premiere, featuring the host of a Jerry Springer knockoff stuck on a lifeboat with a parade of white trash and a pious member of the studio audience. "The Story of the Story of the Story of Everest" consists almost entirely of an enthusiastic young traveler continually careening backwards into a thimble collection, and the more it happened, the more I found myself delirious with laughter. My favorite, though, would have to be a bit that begins with a teenage suburban slacker taking the mantle of the Dalai Lama, then suddenly spinning off into a parody of microbudget '80s summer camp flicks. There's a moment where David Cross' character takes extreme measures to seize victory in a bicycle race that is almost indescribably brilliant and just inhumanly funny. I didn't think the second half of the season was quite as consistent, but it's still fat-packed with comedy. The episode "Sad Songs Are Nature's Onions" is bookended with a nod to Clint Howard's throatily-overdubbed appearance as Balok on the Star Trek episode "The Corbomite Maneuver", and it features one segment that somehow manages to combine parodies of In The Actor's Studio, Fantastic Voyage, Land of the Lost, and Lost in Space with guest spots from a dinosaur and Evil Knievel. That's quickly followed by a music awards jab with a brilliant Beach Boys spoof and a parody of Eric Clapton's Grammy Award-winning ode to his dead son. I could keep rattling off more of my favorite sketches, but I'd wind up listing at least half the season, either spoiling the punchlines in the process or doing such a bad job describing them that I'd wind up making them not sound the least bit funny. 'Sides, there are other episode guides floating around, so there's no need to turn this review into one.
The fourth and, he types with a sniffle, final season of Mr. Show is hitting stores the same week as George Lucas' Star Wars trilogy. Don't let it get lost in the shuffle -- the set's reasonably priced, it's packed with some of the best comedy on DVD at the moment, and a spectral Hayden Christensen hasn't been digitally inserted into even one of these episodes. Unlike a lot of other TV series that require watching from the very first episode, Mr. Show lets viewers leap in at any time, and even though this is the fourth season of the series, it's as good a starting point as any. Very, very highly recommended.
Audio: The audio's pretty straightforward as well, again presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround (192Kbps). It's not any sort of aggressive aural assault, but the dialogue comes through cleanly and clearly, and the roars of laughter and applause from the studio audience offer some nice stereo separation. The audio may not be strikingly different than a cable broadcast, but I'm not left with any gripes or complaints. Each episode is closed captioned, by the way.
Supplements: Every episode in this set is accompanied by audio commentary. The lineup shifts from track to track, but Bob and David are joined at varying times by Bill Odenkirk, Dino Stamatopoulos, Brian Posehn, Jerry Minor, Jay Johnston, Jill Talley, Eric Hoffman, Paul F. Tompkins, Scott Aukerman, B.J. Porter, Brett Paesel, and Evan Schletter. Fans who have sat through the previous twenty audio commentaries should have a pretty good idea what to expect this time around. The runtime's divvied up between some discussion about the writing process and what went into creating the show, improvised bits of comedy, and completely random tangents. Some of the topics include the benefits of the cheap look of the show's sets, lifting dialogue from the Pam and Tommy Lee sex tape, Bob gabbing about life-threatening sores in his mouth, former crescent-headed McDonald's pitchman Mac Tonight, and a debate about whether or not women can be funny. Along with comments about their least favorite bits, the process of penning sketch comedy, and vague murmurs of what season five may have been like, there's talk of misquoting The Omen, chatty cigars, and an aborted cacophagiastastic musical number set in Gene Wilder's rectum. Although Run Ronnie Run! wasn't graced with a commentary of its own, Bob, David, and company do talk about the movie briefly on this set, including a stillborn ending involving the Loch Ness Monster and some geriatric Red Shoes Diaries-flavored naughtiness. These commentaries are almost as much fun as watching the episodes themselves and are definitely worth setting aside a few hours to give a listen.
The other extras are all packed onto disc two, beginning with "Crack-Me-Ups", more than fifteen minutes of outtakes from the show's first three seasons, consisting of profanity montages, a talking pocket pussy, alternate improvised lines, and an unseen Ronny arrest (with TV's Jenny McCarthy!). There's also "The Naked Improv", a four and a half minute appearance on Comic Relief in 1998 where Bob and David play Naked Phrase Guess with the audience at Radio City Music Hall. "A Grand Reunion" (3:46) features candid footage of the cast reuniting to record this season's batch of audio commentaries and the brutal brawls that break out as a result.
Finally, the "Mr. Show Jukebox" serves up 24 tracks from the series' four season run, including the country-fried patriotism of "Big Dumb Ape" and "Blew Moon", the 'A Hard Day's Night' spoof "Don't Beatle Me Up", the soulful R&B stylings of Three Times One Minus One, two versions of "Garden of Hate", homoerotic pop-metal, bluegrass, Euro-synth-pop, Christian new-wave... There are a couple of other songs I would've liked to see tacked on here, particularly the spot-on Beach Boys knockoffs from this season or the previous year's Titannica, but it's still a pretty neat feature. These songs can be played individually or consecutively.
Each episode is contained as a single chapter stop. It would've been nice to be able to skip directly to a particular bit, or even to be able to play all five episodes on each disc with a single click, but it's not that big of a headache. Each disc sports a set of static 16x9 menus, and the interior of the packaging rattles off details about each of this season's ten episodes.
Conclusion: The only thing disappointing about this collection of episodes from HBO's Mr. Show is the knowledge that another set isn't lurking in the wings. The material is, not surprisingly, phenomenal, and even though I've just finished watching the last of these episodes yesterday, I'm already fighting to urge to pop them back in my DVD player. It's a show with an incredible amount of replay value, bolstered further by a set of tremendously entertaining audio commentaries. Since Mr. Show isn't mired in continuity, uninitiated viewers shouldn't have any trouble leaping into the series with this collection even though it is four seasons in. Anyway, the bold, italicized text I'm inching towards is...Highly Recommended.
Related Reviews: DVD Talk also features reviews of the first three seasons of Mr. Show.