Four half hour sketch show specials from Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, courtesy of Netflix. Is it worth your time?
As we head into 2016, Netflix is so much more than just a content streaming service. After starting off with House Of Cards and Orange Is The New Black, Netflix has got more and more bold. After extending the runs of Arrested Devlopment and Trailer Park Boys, in the last year it has become a home for quality, original dramatic content. Ranging from a deal with Marvel to bring two of their slightly lesser characters (Daredevil and Jessica Jones) to life, to giving the Wachowskis a platform for their new project Sense8, and crime-dramas Narcos and Bloodline, Netflix has an ever increasingly impressive portfolio, which it is only looking to build on in future.
It is also prolific in animation, having recently added Dawn of the Croods to a line-up which includes spin offs from Madagascar, Turbo, and Puss In Boots. A further deal with Dreamworks Animation will bring even more new original content to the service, including Guillermo del Toro’s Trollhunters.
However, the comedy output from Netflix is probably the strongest of any area. Netflix seems happy to give creative talents a chance to produce their work with as little interference as possible. They are happy to simply be the platform and give the writers and creators the opportunity. If we ignore the misfire The Ridiculous 6, we have had the brilliant Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock and the sublime Master of None starring, written, and (partly) directed by Aziz Ansari. There is also a brilliant collection of comedy specials (including the recent Very Murray Christmas) that I’m sure has started to effect the number of stand-up DVDs sold every Christmas.
But this isn’t an article about Netflix’s new content strategy! Onto (eventually!) w/ Bob & David. It actually combines two of the points above being almost a straight continuation (Mr Show with Bob and David ran for 4 seasons in the mid-90s) and also shows Netflix simply giving a bunch of comedians the chance to do a show with little commercial pressure and more creative freedom than a tradition TV network could do. There is a “Behind the Making of the Scenes” episode which includes Bob, David, and the rest of the writing team basically sat in a room and working through their ideas for a script. As well as being an interesting look at their process, it shows how simple it should be to make a show! If Netflix can keep this up, it could become the premier place for comedy.
So finally, onto the show! Bob Odenkirk and David Cross are respectively best known as Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul and Tobias Funke in Arrested Development, but both have lengthy comedy resumes. And their original Mr Show was incredibly influential on the next generation of comedians – in fact most of the American sketch shows of the last decade (Portlandia, Key & Peele, Inside Amy Schumer) owe a big debt to Mr Show. The writing team also went on to work on Community, Saturday Night Live, and The Sarah Silverman Program. But how does their return fare?
Straight off the bat, w/ Bob & David is a much more straight forward sketch show than its predecessor, which was a lot more Monty Pythonesque, with fewer scenes running into each other. Given the nature of sketch comedy, it’s quite difficult to review – Mitchell and Webb have a great sketch about how hard writing both the hit AND the miss sketches is – but the short run means the quality of the sketches is more consistent than in most similar shows. My two absolute highlights are the New Years Resolutions from the first episode, where a man is ridiculed for his (rather modest) New Years resolution by his more ambitious friends:
and the “Know Your Rights” sketch featuring a special guest appearance from Keegan-Michael Key:
(If you like these sketches, go and watch the show NOW! I reckon by halfway through the first episode you’ll be hooked.)
There are plenty of other quality sketches in there as well. Obviously there is the occasional misfire, but these are far, far outweighed by the funny sketches.
As previously mentioned, the fifth episode is a look behind the scenes and really is an interesting insight, showing some of the sketches in their first drafts and how they develop into what we see on screen. And seeing the writers (including Dino “Starburns” Stamatopoulos) and cast working hard to get it right makes the improvised feel of the show even more impressive.
I readily acknowledge that I’ve not really talked all that much about the actual show in this review. Sketch humour is pretty subjective. But I enjoyed it, and I hope you do as well – and if you don’t find a sketch funny, there will be another one along in a few minutes! I give this show a definite thumbs up, and demand more episodes! Bob Odenkirk and Daivd Cross are two quality performers, and I hope this is not a one-off return.
Recommended for fans of: Little Britain, Key & Peele, Portlandia... any sketch comedy to be honest!
w/ Bob & David is available on Netflix now.
PS as a special treat for reading all the way to the end, here’s the best moments of David Cross’ Tobias Funke from Arrested Development
and the best of Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad
Better Call Saul is back soon!