Bob Odenkirk and David Cross make an excellent return to sketch comedy

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Dennis Tracy, A&E Reporter

“Mr. Show with Bob and David” sparked a revolution. It came out at a time when premium network channels like HBO and Showtime were trying to find new ways to have audiences subscribe to their networks. It was a period when “The Larry Sanders Show” was beginning to find itself, but it was before the four big dramas of HBO (“Oz,” “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Deadwood”) would premiere. HBO set “Mr. Show” to air Friday nights at midnight and shot it with a cheap budget. The Nielsen numbers, an audience measurement system, were never great. Many people did not realize this show was airing, but those who did got four seasons and 30 episodes out of it.

“Mr. Show” is a sketch comedy hosted by Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. It included live sketches and pre-taped segments with alternative cast members as performers and writers. This included Tom Kenny, known for his roles as SpongeBob SquarePants and the Ice King on Cartoon Network’s “Adventure Time,” along with his wife Jill Talley who voiced Karen the Robot on SpongeBob.  It launched the careers of Jack Black; Paul F. Tompkins, who is now on Netflix’s excellent dramedy “BoJack Horseman” as Mr. PeanutButter; Dino Stamatopoulos, who created Adult Swim’s “Moral Orel” and was a producer on the upcoming “Anomalisa” film by Charlie Kaufman; Scott Adsit, former cast member in Chicago’s Second City comedy group; and Pete Hornberger in former NBC comedy, “30 Rock,” just to name a few key players. Years after the show wrapped up, comedians Tim Heidecker and Eric Warehelm created “Tim and Eric: Awesome Show” for Adult Swim after being inspired by “Mr. Show,” which featured the same kind of surreal humor the show was known for.

It has been nearly 16 years since “Mr. Show’s” untimely demise.  It is a pain to find the original series. HBO Go and Now removed whatever resemblance it had with the show and it has yet to reappear on their services. Amazon, who is still in a multiyear deal with streaming HBO series on their service, does not have “Mr. Show” for their Prime members. The best bet fans have is to go on YouTube and watch the original run of it in subpar quality. The very passionate fans have wanted new material to come from Bob and David, so they shopped around until they struck a deal with Netflix. The deal was to produce four new episodes as well as an hour-long making of what it takes to create a series like this, and why they wanted to come back.

The series name is “With Bob and David” the “Mr. Show” title is dropped as Bob and David wanted to signify that this was going to be a different kind of show. After watching all four episodes and the special documentary, it still has the same feel of “Mr. Show,” but it was cleverly designed to have sketches bounce back to each other.

“Mr. Show” was about rapid-fire comedy, and transitioning from one sketch into another to make it flow evenly. For “With Bob and David,” the antics are still the same, except it is all a part of a giant sketch. Take the opening episode for example. After a welcome return to the future with Bob and David stepping out of their real-time time machine, we go to a game of Cards already in progress. Everybody talks about their goals for the future, with Paul F. Tompkins trying to commit to eating healthier and his friends giving him a hard time about it because they do not believe he can do it. His other friends George (Jay Johnson) and Jonah (Bob Odenkirk) have goals like becoming a judge, even though he is on a parole, or becoming an elected pope of the Roman Catholic Church.  The rest of the episode branches off into different sketches based on this sole act. It is as brilliant and hilarious as Mr. Show fans would expect from people like Bob and David.

Most of the writers and performers return from “Mr. Show” to help “With Bob and David” like Stamatopoulos and Scott Aukerman by contributing jokes and story ideas along with acting in various roles. It was great seeing Kenny again in a live action series, but it was even better seeing new faces like Paget Brewster, Keegan-Michael Key, and Jeffery Tambor join in and be as weird and funny as the rest of cast. Everybody fits in and feels welcomed among the veteran performers. It may have been 16 years since we last saw these people do sketch comedy like this, but it is so worth the wait.

Odenkirk and Cross gave a labor of love to the fans that grew up watching “Mr. Show” on HBO or find copies of it on DVD. “Mr. Show” was a special thing back in the 90s that ended too quickly. “With Bob and David,” it did not even feel like a reunion series, it felt like a fifth season of “Mr. Show” that decided to reboot itself. Enjoy whatever material Odenkirk and Cross deliver, because who knows how long it will be before we see something like this again.