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Mr. Show - The Complete First and Second Seasons

HBO // Unrated // June 4, 2002
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 26, 2002 | E-mail the Author
Bob: Well, America, you asked for it. You told HBO, "we want to see a sketch show hosted by two people we've never seen before."
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.

Season One

The Cry Of A Hungry Baby (11/3/95)
  • Ronnie Dobbs For The National Entitilitus Foundation
  • Bob And Dave Take Audience Suggestions For The Show
  • "Hitler Sings"
  • Father Jim, Progressive Priest, Meets An *sshole At A Party
  • Change For A Dollar
  • Ronnie Dobbs - HBO Presents "Natural Born Drunk - The Ronnie Dobbs Story"
  • Incubation Pants
What To Think (11/10/95)
  • Senator Tankerbell Tells "The Joke" To underline The Inherent Perils Of Federal Arts Funding
  • David Wears A Shock Collar To Monitor His Performances
  • Ole Swerdlow, Folk Puppeteer
  • "Golden Books For Seniors"
  • The "What To Think" Network's "Good News" Program
  • "Overcome" Renouncing Homo-sin-uality
  • "The Bible Machine" Presents Marshall, The 13th Apostle
  • Voiceover King
  • "Globo-Chem" Advertising Presentation Featuring "Pit-Pat" The Pansexual Spokescreature
  • "The Joke: The Musical" With The U.S. Senator Seal Of Approval
We Regret To Inform You (11/17/95)
  • The Unauthorized Biography Of Mr. Show
  • Bob's Mail-Order Bride
  • "Kiss To Prove You're Not Gay"
  • The Gay Porno Film
  • The Honeymoon Couple
  • The "Third Wheel"
  • "Screwballz" - The Sex Partner Dating Show
  • Video Complaints
  • Borden Grote, Celebrity Film Extra Goes All The Way For A Role In A Mental Institution
  • Soul Singer Larry Black Performs "We'll Make Love Tonight"
  • The "Supermodel Calling Service"
  • "My Film Festival"
Who Let You In? (11/24/95)
  • Must See TV - Pope Flees Homicide Accusations In Popemobile
  • A Pope Expert Speaks
  • Larry Learns Guitar
  • I.D.S. (Imminent Death Syndrome)
  • The Trial Of The Millennium
  • "Spank," A Performance Artist, Tries To Make His Statement On The American Flag
  • "Spank" Has His Day In Court
  • Courtroom Experts
  • The Founding Fathers: A History Of The Flag
  • The Museum Of History
Season Two

Now who Wants Ice Cream? (11/15/96)
  • Mr. Show Becomes A Sovereign Nation
  • Mountain Dougie Part 1
  • The Peterson Family News
  • Thrilling Miracles
  • 8-In-1 Super Pan Infomercial
  • Only The British Can Fly
  • New Freeland, Montana - Mountain Dougie Part 2
  • U.S. Customs
  • "Take Back The Streets" With F.F. Woodycooks
  • The Independent Nations Games
  • The Standoff: Day 4
A Talking Junkie (11/22/96)
  • David Affects An English Accent
  • "Mr. Junkie: The Talking Junkie"
  • Adopted Son
  • The Red Balloon
  • Mom And Pop Porno Store
  • Three Times One Minus One On "The White People Co-Opting Black Culture Network"
  • "Rap: The Musical"
  • The Homage Awards
  • HBO's Creepy Peeping Videos
The Biggest Failure In Broadway History (11/29/96)
  • Waiting For David
  • The Generation Gap
  • "No Adults Allowed" - Talking To Teenagers
  • Slacker Discrimination
  • The New Ku Klux Klan
  • American Ad Awards: NAMBLA - "We're Not Killers"
  • "Drunk Cops: Hammered In Detroit"
  • Nathan's Pet Iguana
  • "Jeepers Creepers - Semi-Star" The Musical
  • Offensive Ending
If You're Going To Write A Comedy Scene, You're Going To Have Some Rat Feces In There (12/6/96)
  • Mr. Show Goes Public And Opens Up The Floor For Questions From You, The Shareholders
  • Child Labor Script Writers
  • Van Hammersly, Champion Billiards Player
  • "We Love Our Gay Son"
  • "Work Is Play!" Greg Sniper, Principal Stockholder Of Mr. Show, Pays A Visit To The Set
  • Downsizing
  • The New Economics Of Child Labor
  • Senator Tankerbell Speaks
  • GloboChem presents "San Francisco: The Theme Park" - Family Friendly!
Operation Hell On Earth (12/13/96)
  • Bob And David's Daughter Superstar
  • Deprived Youth
  • "American First - Operation Hell On Earth"
  • Anchor Family Divorce
  • The Basketball Recruiters
  • Blame-A-Thon '96 Presents Fartin' Gary
  • Fartin' Rudy In "Second Wind"
  • Return Of Superstar
The Velveteen Touch Of A Dandy Fop (12/20/96)
  • Good Deeds For Charity
  • Helping The Non-Handicapped
  • Subway Scene
  • Dr. Sammy's "Old Lady, Biker, Gay Guy, Japanese Man: The 4 Voices Within"
  • The Last Donut
  • Dickie Crickets, The King Of Megaphone Crooners
  • Who Greenlighted "Coupon: The Movie"?
  • The Trial
  • The Trailer
  • The Testimonials
It's somewhat strange to think that Saturday Night Live doesn't think twice about dropping $30,000 for a single set. Despite all of the money at their disposal, they can't cram as many laughs into 90 minutes as Mr. Show does in a third of the time and on a shoestring budget. Mr. Show is an excellent series, and it's great to have the first two seasons archived on our format of choice, with a respectable amount of supplemental material to boot.

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.
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