David: And that's us, so here we are.
Mr. Show, the brainchild of David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, came along in 1995 when sketch comedy was at its nadir. Production had wrapped on The Kids In The Hall, for instance, a year and a half earlier. Though not quite as dismal as the 1994 season (inarguably the worst since Jean Doumanian's reviled run as producer in 1980), Saturday Night Live had once again slipped into mediocrity and teetered on being entirely unwatchable. The State may have been on the air at the time -- I don't recall, exactly -- but even at its best, the series never struck me as all that great. A beacon of light...a glimmer of hope...shone from the unlikely realm of pay-cable. Mr. Show premiered on HBO on November 3, 1995 and, like anything truly great, no one seemed to give it much thought. Critics slowly caught on, and its audience continued to grow until it became...well, not the phenomenon that it deserved to be, but successful enough to warrant three further orders of episodes, at least. This collection from HBO Home Video includes all ten episodes from the first two seasons of Mr. Show, complete with a fair amount of supplemental material.
Mr. Show is not the easiest series to describe. Though there's rarely a connective thread between all of the sketches in a given episode, each segment cleverly segues to the next, making it feel more like a show and less like a scattershot collection of skits. The hit-to-miss ratio of the humor is weighed greatly in the audience's favor, if not quite up to the exceedingly high standards of a series like The Kids In The Hall. Perhaps Mr. Show's strongest asset is its writing. Few series can balance crudeness, wit, and the faintest dash of warmth in quite the same way. Bob and David are not only the stars of Mr. Show; they wore pretty much all of the hats and dabbled in every aspect of production. For the first six episodes, as I believe it's stated in the commentary, Bob and David are the only credited writers. It's probably worth noting that Bob Odenkirk had written for Saturday night Live and Chris Elliot's Get A Life before tackling Mr. Show, and both Bob and David had worked together on The Ben Stiller Show. The two of them perform just as well in front of the camera as they do behind the scenes, bolstered further by the presence of other talented folks and guest stars.
To get somewhat of an idea what to expect from Mr. Show, a list of sketches collected on this volume is provided below. Consider yourself warned that some of the surprises may be spoiled somewhat by the descriptive titles, lifted shamelessly from the set's packaging. You can skip directly to the next portion of the review, if you'd like to steer clear of any spoilers.
The Cry Of A Hungry Baby (11/3/95)
Now who Wants Ice Cream? (11/15/96)
Video: All ten episodes of Mr. Show are presented at the series' original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The series was primarily shot on video, with a few portions here and there on film, and these two DVDs look strikingly like a 6.5 year old primarily-shot-on-video television series. The master tapes haven't degraded appreciably over the past few years, and I'd imagine the differences between these discs and broadcasts over DSS are slight.
Audio: Each episode of Mr. Show features stereo audio that also probably doesn't differ significantly from cable and satellite airings. I'm not sure if the series was mixed with surrounds in mind, though a few squeaks did emanate from the rears on occasion. Perhaps that can be traced back to my wacky receiver, though. During some of the season two episodes, some screams and the like did sound a bit on the harsh side, even though I didn't have the volume up at a particularly high level. This can almost certainly be traced back to the way the series sounded when originally broadcast.
Supplements: This two-disc DVD release of Mr. Show includes a commentary track with Bob and David for each and every episode. Special guests (!) come and go, including John Ennis, Jay Johnston, Bill Odenkirk, Brian Posehn, Mary-Lynn Rajskub, Jill Talley, Paul F. Tompkins, Evan Schletter, and Jerry Minor.
The commentaries are a bit on the surreal side, and at pretty much any given time, one of the participants is in character. Some of them include an acting coach seemingly unable to stop hocking frozen food despite consistently poor copy, an agent, Senator Tankerbell, and none other than (gasp!) Billy Dee Williams.
Bob and David talk about the inspiration behind many of the sketches, such as the "rapist goofs" that inspired the F.F. Woodycooks segment, the comic at the Montréal comedy festival that led to the creation of Fartin' Gary, and the demise of the novelty pet ferret behind the "Nathan's Pet Iguana" sketch. David also claims that he really did smuggle pot from Amsterdam in a shampoo bottle, and I'm still not entirely sure if he was serious.
The creative process behind the sketches is delved into somewhat, as well as the conditions of working on a show with no budget whatsoever. They talk about the mansion used for several episodes, including one where the house (not to mention David) was covered with goat urine and feces. Among other interesting tidbits are the fact that the original name for the Bag Hutch had to be changed because there really was such an absurdly stupid product on the market, David's obsession with Emerson, dodging payments of student loans, and that you too can own Billy Ocean for the bargain basement price of $5,000.
Though the commentaries are the most notable supplements, quite a bit more has been packed onto the first disc. Bob & David Bios are one-page biographies of the masterminds behind the series. "Fuzz" The Musical Featuring Ronnie Dobbs, presumably added as a tie-in to the Mr. Show movie, is from the third episode of season three and isn't too far off from the sketch elsewhere on this disc. Before It Was A TV Show is hiss-laden camcorder footage with two minutes and forty-five seconds of the beginning of one of Bob and David's live shows. It ends rather abruptly as well.
The Best Of Mr. Show could more accurately be titled "the best of season three", offering a hint of what's to come on upcoming Mr. Show DVD releases. This 'best-of' runs around the length of a regular episode and features, of course, a newscast wrap-around. The way this set of framing gags is handled is inventive and genuinely had me surprised at the end.
Rounding out the supplements are ten unusual promotional spots, avoiding the nasty habit of merely rehashing extended clips from the series. They vary in length, with "Behind The Scenes At Mr. Show" running the longest at three and a half minutes. A welcome "play all" feature is available for the spots, though there isn't one for the episodes themselves.
Conclusion: Sketch comedy is a pretty barren land on DVD, and Mr. Show fills that void quite comfortably. The $39.98 price point is in line with comparable television box sets, and it's sure to drop considerably upon its first week of release in June. The supplements and the overall quality of the series very much lend this two-disc release to a purchase, and this is a set that's certain to spend an extensive amount of time spinning in my DVD player. Hopefully a future set collecting the series' two final seasons as well as the feature-length Run Ronnie Run are in the wings. Highly recommended.