W/ Bob & David Season 1 available November 13 on Netflix.
The best sketch-comedy series of the past decade—Chappelle’s Show, Key & Peele and Inside Amy Schumer—have advanced the genre, particularly through their political satire and aesthetic considerations. The latter two series have also perfected virality—the new yardstick for sketches—an accomplishment largely achieved through briefer, brisker material.
It’s entirely fitting, then, that the stars of W/ Bob & David, a reboot of sorts for the ’90s cult sketch series Mr. Show, first appear exiting a time machine. The latest program to receive a second life from Netflix after cancellation, W/ Bob & David is aggressively old-fashioned, with audience laughter, unfocused send-ups, lumbering running times and easily one of the least diverse casts on TV, even among the supporting players. Its throwback qualities extend to the crude, brassy direction; most of the sketches look about as cinematic as your typical Judge Judy episode.
None of this would matter, of course, if the four half-hour episodes of W/ Bob & David were freaking hilarious. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ easy chemistry is still there, but the sketches often feel in style and occasionally in substance so outdated as to be historical curiosities. The opening episode features a running joke involving a sickly man (played by Paul F. Tompkins) who can’t stop eating red meat despite doctors’ solemn orders to the contrary, because men love meat—get it? More timely but hardly original are two overlong sketches in the third episode that expose the reliance on sob stories in reality-TV competitions and the inspirational baloney that all tech visionaries seem to be fluent in. (Pro-tip: Just add the word “digital” to any noun to make it sound more future-y.)
The best segments are the topical sketches that feel like they could air on Comedy Central today (and thus recall Mr. Show’s political leanings). The first episode features a woolly but mostly effective parody of historical whitewashing, in which Cross plays a pompous dimwit—his specialty—who insists on calling slavery “helperism” and slaves “helpers.” Like so much of the show, the sketch merits cleverness points but fails to elicit laughs. This skit is sharp enough to make the demand for Odenkirk and Cross’ return to sketch understandable—but not funny enough to make it worthwhile.