W/ BOB AND DAVID Season One Review
It’s been a while, but it’s fair to say that W/BOB & DAVID is smart enough, and good enough, to earn a spot as an additional (or at least honorary) season of MR. SHOW. Beloved in cult fashion for their subversively dark humor and unmatched creative form, Bob Odenkirk (BETTER CALL SAUL) and David Cross (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) turned their first venture on Netflix into a gargantuan family reunion of voices that made MR.SHOW so unique in the first place. While this potent re-collaboration is only four episodes plus a behind-the-scenes installment, it manages to be very funny, with very funny people bringing very funny baggage into modern context. It’s like Bob, David, and their friends picked up where they left off, and immediately kept digging deeper into their brand, getting weirder within it all the while.
The title sequence is as unnerving as ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK’s theme song is too long
To build an American comedy family tree would be a mammoth, twisty task. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross helped launch and develop many great comedic careers and personalities who currently flourish and inspire today. Paul F. Tompkins (BOJACK HORSEMAN), Tom Kenny (SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS), Scott Aukerman (COMEDY BANG! BANG!), Brian Posehn (being Brian Posehn), and Mary Lynn Rajskub (24), among other MR. SHOW alums, return in W/BOB & DAVID. It’s a murderer’s row of specific voices, yet they serve the higher power of Bob and David’s comedic tone and ideas without hogging the limelight. The show shines best as a strange, whole piece.
On a sketch-to-sketch basis, it manages to be hilarious with an absurdist and stupid bend. Back in its prime, MR. SHOW was a bit much for audiences, and considering this is even more of Bob and David’s full, controlled voice, the divisiveness might play out similarly here. Some sketches work better than others, but collectively they create a comedic collage of sorts that is fascinating despite its inconsistencies. Ultimately, it’s how they mold multi-layered, highly thematic episodes with strange framing devices that impresses. Like in MR. SHOW, this blends live and taped sketches, weaving ideas and characters throughout whole episodes. This is great, stand-alone collaborative comedy in an inspired frame.
Brian Posehn and Paul F. Tompkins haven’t changed outfits for 15 years
W/BOB & DAVID is a show made under the Abso-Lutely Productions banner, led by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim, protégés of Odenkirk himself. Their hands in the new show function more as a collaborative handshake, trusting Bob & David to make anything they please. In MR. SHOW, the duo worked on a level that was equal parts angry, idiotic, satirical, and dedicated. These traits come back for the new show, in the form of characters like self-confident jerks, slimy experts at random nonsense, and scathing parodies of the righteous in any form.
It can come off as slack-jawed ridiculousness, especially because Bob and David have a tendency to really dig into a joke, even if the joke is that the joke is bad. It can be uncomfortable and become anti-comedic, but fans of MR. SHOW and the like have already come to accept, or even enjoy this. What W/BOB & DAVID confirms is that it’s all written and performed through gritted, hyper-aware teeth. There is solid, modern satire here that transcends pointing and laughing at the world by instead looking right into the mirror and yelling at its own reflection. W/ BOB & DAVID is hardly moving, but like its predecessor, it has a penchant for equipping quite the attitude, throwing the audience and any idea of tradition off balance in gleefully chaotic, occasionally anarchist swings.
Timely, doubly subversive, and really, really, funny
Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of W/BOB & DAVID is its fifth episode: an hour-long behind the scenes documentary directed by Lance Bangs. Bangs is responsible for behind-the-scenes and documentary pieces, most recently the great stand up show THE MELTDOWN WITH JONAH AND KUMAIL, but his W/BOB & DAVID episode is perhaps his most structurally fascinating work to date. The documentary talks to multiple members of the BOB & DAVID family, and explores the creation, writing, and performance of multiple sketches. Bangs captures Odenkirk, Cross, and their writing staff tossing around ideas, capturing eureka moments along with the awkward, thought-filled silences in-between. He crosscuts the progress, weaving through the writing and the actual sketch itself. It’s a seemingly simple trick, but it shows process as beautifully as David Fincher could, with more humanistic sloppiness. Any creative dreamer would get a kick out of watching this, and can probably agree that more stuff like it wouldn’t be a bad thing.
There’s a vindictive pleasure in seeing even Bob and David struggle through the writing process
Fans of MR. SHOW and its creators obviously will have a great time watching W/ BOB & DAVID. It proves interesting that despite the nods to devotees, the show feels singular and unique on its own, while indicative of a very specific and special comedy style. It certainly isn’t a style for everyone, but it goes unfiltered and appreciated. The good thing is that even though it’s only a couple of episodes, Netflix can push the same buttons with IFC’s COMEDY BANG! BANG! and THE BIRTHDAY BOYS. Both are of the exact same humor ilk, to the point of sharing writers and performers. Alternative “hipster” comedy is a tone game, and picking a litmus test can be difficult. That being said, Netflix seems to be into it, giving shows like these and WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: FIRST DAY OF CAMP healthy online homes. This growth and rise of absurd, unique humor bodes well for comedy as a whole, and W/ BOB & DAVID is an exciting, if small, addition made by some of the best in the game.
W/BOB & DAVID is available to watch in its entirety on Netflix