'W/ Bob and David' sharp sketch comedy
From 1995-1998, the sketch comedy series “Mr. Show with Bob and David” aired on HBO. During its tenure, “Mr. Show” housed and developed some of the most significant and popular personalities in entertainment, including Jack Black (“School of Rock”), Sarah Silverman (“The Sarah Silverman Program”) and Mary Lynn Rajskub (“24”), among others. And perhaps the greatest contributions were the talents of the titular duo, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. Both prolific voices, Odenkirk now leads the “Breaking Bad” spinoff “Better Call Saul,” while Cross is best known for his role as the oblivious Tobias Fünke on “Arrested Development.”
Now, thanks to Netflix, the influential series returns under the shortened title “W/ Bob and David.” Presented with an experienced hand that comes with 17 years of personal and professional development, the show brings back the influential, fast-paced comedy that defined its earlier run. The new episodes, like their classic counterparts, comfortably edge into the risky, absurd and offensive.
At the core of “W/ Bob and David” ’s success are the well-placed segues that establish a distinct flow between the various, interlocking sketches, which utilize both live and pre-filmed elements. Directed by the experienced team of Keith Truesdell (“Jimmy Kimmel Live”) and Jason Woliner (“The Last Man On Earth”), “W/ Bob and David” balances its formats well, guiding viewers relatively seamlessly into each new segment.
“Episode One” puts this skill on display as it opens with a doctor telling Mike (Paul F. Tompkins, “BoJack Horseman”) that he needs to stop eating red meat. After a cut to credits, Odenkirk and Cross emerge in front of the audience from a time machine/portable toilet as they learn the consequences of using a “real-time machine” as opposed to a “real time machine” (hyphens are tricky). After some explanation, Cross decides to use the toilet function of the machine and, once finished, walks seamlessly into a new sketch.
The latest segment, which takes place over a card game, details the ambitious New Year’s resolutions made by a group of middle-aged friends. Among the dreams of becoming a director, a judge and the Pope is Mike’s humble goal to change his diet. In contrast to the universal support his friends receive, Mike is met with rejection as one buddy says, “You can’t learn to not like something.” The statement proves prophetic as the friends reinvent themselves and Mike gives into temptation. These success stories pave the way for the rest of the episode, providing key transitional elements. Odenkirk’s Pope Judah advertises for a Kosher delivery service while the other characters appear in some way or the other throughout the subsequent sketches. This helps to craft underlying premises that often mock those in positions of authority or influence.
The proper implementation of these segues and recurring characters turn a collection of sketches into a cohesive whole and provide the strongest episodes. “Episode Three” has the most trouble establishing these initial connections and struggles to find an early voice. The individual parts are funny, but they have trouble coming together into a single voice as opposed to the other episodes.
“Episode Four,” for instance, sheds a light on parenting and how it can go awry. Cross’s mother frustrates her son by comparing his accomplishments to his slacker brother Donny (also played by Cross) on the faux-reality show “Amazing Moms,” which claims, “A child in jail is a hug waiting to be set free.” Meanwhile, a pair of conservative Christian parents rejects their son after he claims Hell isn’t real and that God lets everyone into Heaven — even monsters like Adolf Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer.
Whether it’s tackling religion, slavery or the c-word, “W/ Bob and David” attacks all subjects with experienced confidence. Odenkirk, Cross and many of their collaborators are industry mainstays, and this confidence translates into seamless, uncompromising comedic attempts. Like most sketch comedy, not everything is perfect, but “W/ Bob and David” maintains the sharp comedic edge of “Mr. Show” while serving as a reminder as to why Bob and David were so influential.