DVD, HBO Video
Anyone who has ever sat through an entire episode of Kids in the Hall knows you have to watch a lot of Chicken Lady scenes to get to the legendary "Slipped My Mind" sketch. According to my calculations, even the best sketch comedy is funny only about 40 percent of the time. But in 1995, struggling stand-up comedians David Cross and Bob Odenkirk masterminded one of the most consistently hilarious sketch comedy shows ever conceived. Mr. Show: The Complete First and Second Seasons chronicles the brilliantly innovative series in its infancy.
Imagine the writers of The Onion channeling their caustic and crass perspective into sketch comedy, and you get Mr. Show. A product of HBO, Mr. Show has little concern for boundaries: unlike its sketch comedy predecessors, the creators didn't have to concern themselves with toeing the line of good taste. Mr. Show simply tramples over it.
As with Monty Python, each 28-minute episode is seamless, each sketch blending into the next with inspired transitions. Unlike KITH or SNL, Mr. Show has virtually no running characters, so each skit is entirely new and original, and with such a small cast, it's amazing how many characters appear over the course of the DVD set's 280-minute running time.
Although Bob and Dave are clearly the stars, appearing as at least one character (and sometimes two or three) in almost every scene, Mr. Show benefits greatly from a solid supporting cast. The talented, versatile, and very funny troupe includes Tom Kenny, Jill Taley, Jay Johnston, Paul F. Tompkins, and the then-unknown Jack Black, whose heavy metal folk act, Tenacious D, got its start on Mr. Show. The shows are augmented with cameos by comic brethren Janeane Garofalo, Ben Stiller, David Foley, and Julia Sweeney.
The content of these DVDs is rich. In addition to the 10 episodes of pure comedic gold, there are a few bits of bonus content, including The Fantastical New Report, a best-of special made prior to Season 4. The only letdown of this long-awaited, two-disc set comes on the technical side. The DVD's menus do not allow scene selections within the episodes themselves. So if you want to see "Dixie Crickets: King of Megaphone Crooners" or "Rap: The Musical," you have to select the episode, then fast forward for 20 minutes to get to it. This is a big disappointment for those of you who like to reference scenes like "Pit-Pat the Pan-Sexual Spokescreature" at a moment's notice, causing your dinner guests to clamor for the door. — Eric Geyer