Proving the old adage that anything is possible if you wish hard enough, this month marked the return of comedy pioneers Bob Odenkirk and David Cross to the TV sketch arena with their new Netflix show W/ Bob and David. Featuring many of the writers and cast members (including Comedy Bang! Bang! host Scott Aukerman) who made the ’90s sketch program Mr. Show such an indelible cult classic, the long-awaited follow-up possesses the same sharp, satirical eye as its predecessor.
But in case you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Show and how culturally significant its comedy still is two decades later, here are the 10 most important sketches the series produced. And for more David Cross, be sure to catch the return of Todd Margaret on IFC beginning January 7th at 10P ET/PT.
For every faceless, multinational, multi-billion-dollar conglomerate, there are countless daily meetings just like this one: corporate pitchmen and bottomliners brainstorming ways to humanize their company’s image while tapping as many markets and demos as possible. And who better to accomplish this herculean task than a magical, pansexual, non-threatening spokesthing named Pit Pat?
9. The Mr. Show Water Cooler
Not too long ago, CNN was a trusted news source, Fox News languished in cable obscurity, and non-substantive political commentary based on monologue jokes and stand-up bits was relegated to variety shows like Politically Incorrect. But in the years since this sketch aired, comedy news outlets like The Daily Show, The Onion, and Last Week Tonight have become far more in-depth than our current cable news offerings and, according to multiple studies, they command a much more knowledgeable audience. Today, the “Mr. Show Water Cooler” sketch is more of an indictment of the “uninformed, unrehearsed political jam sessions” from the mainstream media than the satirical news shows that skewer them.
8. The Story of Everest
Lanky Jay Johnston undercuts his triumph of scaling Mount Everest by repeatedly falling against two racks of his mother’s thimbles in a mesmerizing display of physical comedy. And the fact there’s not much more to the scene makes it incredible. The overall simplicity of the premise, the realistic bewilderment and frustration of the parents, and how the basic tenets of comedy — timing, heightening, misdirection, etc. — are warped or outright abandoned makes this sketch a fascinating study of subtlety within slapstick.
7. Fairsley Foods
Without the financial resources, tax loopholes, and teams of lawyers that your average retail giant maintains, small family-run shops don’t stand a chance in most free market scenarios. So when a humble local supermarket chain is put in the sights of a mega-mart’s cutthroat smear campaign, there’s not much to do but close down locations and spend a fortune on child-sized tracking collars. The satire of mom & pop’s losing ground to mega-chains is just another example of Mr. Show eerily predicting the future.
6. The Prenatal Pageant
Years before Toddlers and Tiaras and Honey Boo-Boo popularized the alien world of child pageants and pushed the lowest-common denominator to record lows, a sketch like “Prenatal Pageant” seemed like a farfetched (albeit hilariously astute) portrayal of pageant families. But with 21st-century hindsight, Bob and David weren’t too far off from how those starry-eyed, reality show parents would treat a potential embryonic meal ticket.
5. Ronnie Dobbs
Once again, Mr. Show — the satirical prognosticator that it was — anticipated the precipitous decline of our celebrity tabloid culture. Ronnie Dobbs, the oft-arrested redneck who’s had brushes with the law in every state, achieves fame and fortune by simply being a petty criminal on a Cops-like reality show. And honestly, is that really different from today’s reality stars who get ample airtime and exorbitant per-episode paychecks?
4. Mr. Show Boys’ Club
In this biting take on the swinging-’60s sexism that predates Mad Men and is still present in many institutions, “Mr. Show Object” Jill Talley discovers that the Mr. Show Boys’ Club not only parades women around in skimpy outfits and deer antlers (a thinly veiled dig at the Playboy Club), but also offers meager concessions to its young female members. At a time when women are still fighting for equal pay and adequate health care, the sketch is sadly still very relevant.
3. The Teardrop Awards
As a stand-up, David Cross has railed against the cynical marketing in the wake of a tragedy. (Check out his thoughts on American flags post-9/11.) And playing a singer-songwriter who lost his five-year-old son a year prior, Cross explores similar exploitative territory with jubilant acceptance speeches after winning awards for his commemorative songs. A cathartic sketch for anyone who has felt gross after seeing suffering and misfortune capitalized on in the age of knee-jerk social media reactions.
2. The Last American Indian
The last living descendent of an ancient tribe is close to death as government agents watch over him and wait to take his land. All that’s left of his rich and storied culture is the foggy memories of a man in his twilight years — ones that could be confusing history with the film Billy Jack. It’s an incredibly dark and poignant reminder of the civilizations that have been lost and forgotten in the annals of war and subjugation.
1. Pre-Taped Call-In Show and The Audition
While these two sketches may not have the satirical edge of other Mr. Show scenes, they’re both master lessons on sketch writing that have inspired countless comedians. Both penned by Dino Stamatopoulos of Community and Moral Orel fame, “Pre-Taped Call-In Show” and “Audition” feature multiple layers of meta-comedy and gut-busting rage that stems from casually benign misunderstandings. To make a diehard fan out of a person unfamiliar with Mr. Show, simply show them these two sketches that continue to influence everything from Adult Swim to IFC’s own Comedy Bang! Bang!.
Want more comedy from the mind of David Cross? Check out the trailer for the return of Todd Margaret.