Early in the first episode of Netflix’s new sketch series W/ Bob & David, a medical professional leans in toward a character played by Paul F. Tompkins and attempts to assure him his health issues are serious by saying, “This ain’t no show, mister.” This is a lovely little wink at the audience, seeing as W/ Bob & David is the triumphant return to sketch comedy by Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, creators of the revered HBO series Mr. Show with Bob and David. (Get it?!) It is also, kind of, a lie. Actually, it’s very much a lie, because the scene was scripted and filmed and edited and released as part of a 30-minute program, making it very much “a show” in the strictest, most technical sense. But it’s also kind of a lie in a softer way, because it implies this show will be somehow fundamentally different from its predecessor. Which it is not. This, to be extremely clear, is not a complaint.
Okay, now the good news and bad news.
Good News: As I just said, W/ Bob & David very much lives up to the legacy of Mr. Show, in tone and substance and method of delivery. This is an unnecessarily fancy way of informing you that, no, the two decades between the programs will not prevent them from showing you Bob Odenkirk wearing a pope hat while tearing ass around a dirt track on a four-wheeler and giving the camera the finger. That definitely happens, in the very first episode. I won’t say any more about it because you really should enjoy the context of it all in the way it was intended to be presented, but yes. Definitely happens.
In fact, stuff like that — the good, Mr. Show-y stuff — happens a lot in the two episodes I screened this week. Everyone’s older, and 2015 is a different time than 1998, so to that extent, their perspectives on things may be a little different. (Although one of the beauties of Odenkirk and Cross’ comedy is that they rarely address topical subject matter, which is why so many 20-year-old Mr. Show sketches still feel fresh today.) But even so, it’s still very much that same comedic sensibility. W/ Bob & David is good. That’s my point here.
Bad News: There are only four episodes, which seems like a weird and small number of episodes for a big fancy project from two titans of sketch comedy. But even this “bad news” becomes decidedly less bad once you dig a little and find out why they ended up going with four episodes. They elaborated on it all a bit in an interview with The A.V. Club this week:
CROSS: We had all these sketches, and we did tour around the book. That tour consisted of Bob and myself and Brian Posehn and some other people in each city acting in the sketches that we had. And Bob pretty quickly was like, “Look man, why are we putting all this time and energy into the stage show, which would be great, when we could just put in the same time and energy and do four completely new half hours?”
ODENKIRK: And more people would see us. Those stage shows are great, but we’ve done two tours since Mr. Show ended, and I still have people who are like, “When are you guys going to go on tour?” I’m like, “We were there, we did it a year and a half ago. We came to your city.” People don’t even know you did it.
So, when you look at it that way, as a high-production-value two-hour reunion show available to tens of millions of Netflix subscribers instead of a few thousand people in select cities who chose to pay for tickets and go to the trouble of leaving the house, it becomes almost a blessing, even in its abbreviated form. And that’s before you remember that Odenkirk and Cross are both very busy men, with the former starring as a beloved character in a critically-acclaimed spin-off of an even more critically-acclaimed series, and the latter seeming to have a few dozen irons constantly glowing in the fire. The fact that they were able to get together to do anything like this, at any length, at any point, is kind of a miracle.
So, I guess if I’m being accurate here, there’s not really good news and bad news. There’s good news and, like, other good news. Welcome back, fellas.